The Mason Baker

James Willis is the founder of The Mason Baker, a West End success story that just celebrated its first anniversary of trading.

The company constructs and delivers jar-cakes (cakes in mason jars) across Australia and continues to sell out every week.

“There are lots of gifting companies that focus on selling products made by other companies. The fact that we make our own product, package it and then send it anywhere in Australia is our unique selling point,” James explains.

“The first one I sent was to my sister in Western Australia - our Grandma used to use mason jars all the time and they’ve made a real comeback recently!

“The popularity of TV shows such as The Great Australian Bake Off and MasterChef is helping us to tap into popular trends and Australian foodies.”

The idea of combining sponge cake, frosting and vintage style glassware for a business may not have seemed an obvious one to many, but James hasn’t looked back since packing that very first one off to WA.

“By sealing the jars our cakes stay fresh without refrigeration,” he says. “We also hate waste. Once you have devoured your cake you can use the jars for all sorts of things, from storing spices, to making candles and even coffee cups!”

And his advice for any would be bakerpreneurs? “Trust your gut,” he replies. When you’re dealing in cake, it’s hard not to.

What is your greatest business learning?

Keep your whole operation as lean as possible and do as much as you feasibly can yourself, at least to start with. It’s definitely a good idea to roll up your sleeves and expose yourself to all areas of your business.

What is your greatest business success?

Lowering my costs and making the whole operation run as efficiently as possible. Also working with our courier to get the best possible rates for our customers – that’s really important if you’re producing a product for delivery.

What three things should someone consider before starting a business?

  1. Know your market and know how you are going to deliver something better than everyone else.
  2. Be prepared to work 18-hour days. No-one can prepare you for how much work is involved in setting up a business!
  3. Don’t get too emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It can often blind you from doing what is necessary and making sound business decisions.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

No! It’s been an absolute whirlwind so far and I have loved every minute of it.

What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?

Social media, and more specifically, Instagram. It’s a great visual medium for getting exposure for our product. It also helps when customers like the taste of your cake and tell their friends about it.

How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?

I read The Australian and The Financial Review religiously and expose myself to all forms of news. It sounds obvious, I know, but it’s also really important to talk to people across a range of industries.

Where have you sought business advice?

I’ve got a couple of mentors. One is the CEO of a shipping and distribution company and the other one works in the retail sector so they have very different fields of knowledge. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile one set of advice with another so I trust my gut as well.

What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?

  1. How much capital you are going to need and if you are going to front the money yourself or pitch the business and use someone else's.
  2. Don't spend money on things you could do yourself! Lots of people will approach you wanting to sell their services. My advice in the beginning is to do it yourself and if you don't know how, then learn.
  3. Use whatever means you can to get exposure for your product for free. Assess cheap and efficient ways to acquire new customers.

How do you manage risk?

Where possible, we avoid spending large amounts of capital on equipment. If you find yourself needing to outlay a large sum of money for a device or piece of equipment, look at alternatives like outsourcing that specific job to another company.

What value do you place in business plans and why?

When I started I had no written business plan. I had a strategy in my mind and trusted what I knew. I don't believe in detailed 50 page business plans because nobody has the time to read them. If you're putting one together, be clear, concise and tell the story.

03 March 2017