Cream Slices is a household name in Lagos. The brain behind the concept is Olawunmi Animashaun, a University of Lagos graduate of Geography. Today, she appears to have forgotten her certificate because of her success in the baking business. She started in her mother’s kitchen and 10 years down the line, she is comfortably seated in an exquisite office at Surulere, Lagos. Her brother’s advice propelled her into the business despite that she had no formal training on how to bake. In this interview with Philips Olawunmi Ojo, she explains that money shouldn’t be an issue for any budding entrepreneur but that you should just start from where you are. Excerpts:
What motivated you to incorporate Cream Slices?
That’s an amazing question. When I rented my shop about 10 years ago at 94, Ogunlana Drive, Surulere, I wanted to make clothes and hats. I learnt how to make clothes from my mum as I assisted her always. I wanted that shop to be a proper fashion house where you could procure your clothes, hats and several other fashion accessories. I had paid the rent and told the landlord what business I would be doing there. Just before starting, my brother told me “instead of fashion designing , why don’t you bake bread because people eat bread daily?” He further said if I made clothes, I needed rich customers who would have been well fed before they consider buying clothes. Hitherto, for a very long time, I usually baked at home but it was just a hobby. I guess he said that probably because he had seen what I was doing at home and he thought I could do better. He then told me that aside bread, I could also introduce cakes because my cakes are good. I thought about it and somehow I then started baking.
Did you undergo formal training in baking before you started ?
I had no formal training at all and I must add that the best bakers do not have formal training at all. Baking is something you just start doing. I have been baking for a long time like since my secondary school days. Those days when we used to mix Fanta with our cakes to make it real good and then if you threw the cake at someone, the person would definitely fall. That was how hard our cakes were then. My mum always baked too and even my first cook book was from my mum. Till date, I still have pans that I inherited from my mother such as her cake pans etc. I just had the privilege of learning from my mum.
How did you raise capital to start the business?
Like I said before, I used to make hats and it was a thriving business so I had good cash to run around with. When I was making hats, I just left the university, and this was around 1999 and I was using my mum’s shop, so I wasn’t paying rent and I had just a worker. In fact, I used to make use of her staff before finally employing my own staf, so I was so privileged to have made money without much stress. People emphasize capital, capital, but I have come to realize that you just need to start from where you are. Even when I started making cakes too, I used to make cakes from my mum’s kitchen. I wasn’t paying for gas or electricity too. I was practically not paying for anything. In fact, even the oven I was using was broken, I still managed it and I used paper to stuff it to make sure the heat did not escape. I did not start with very big money . I just bought a pan or two one day with the money I had on me. I couldn’t even afford to buy like a kilogram of flour, I only bought what I needed for the job at hand. Then the customer would pay me after the job and then I would invest the money in the business. I did not start with some mega money at all but I just knew that I needed to start from where I was and with what I had. However, when I started the business proper, my husband supported me a lot.
What has sustained you for the past 10 years in the baking business?
I would say it’s my passion. There is always the God factor no doubt, but I must say I love what I am doing. For example, any cake that goes out of my oven I need to see it. Even when I am not in the country, my workers need to send the picture of the cake to me before it leaves the shop and if I don’t like the picture, it won’t leave the shop at all. I do not personally bake all the cakes because I have a very good team, but I see 90% of all the cakes that leave the shop. There are times we do video calls if I am not around and while they are working, they talk to me. If one’s heart is in the business I think it will sustain the business definitely.
We know that in Nigeria now, the baking business is booming. How have you been able to cope with competition?
Truthfully, if you eat any cake from Cream Slices, there is a difference and even our customers know that. You might be spending a bit more but it’s a lot of quality that goes into it. For example our best sellers are our chocolate and red velvet cakes. We have a lot of heart in our cakes. We also try to satisfy our customers so they keep coming back. I didn’t know majority of my customers . All they say is someone gave me your number and more so , when you walk up to Cream Slices shop, the ambience you find in there, you might not find in other outlets. Our cushions are well set, tables nicely placed, you can come in with friends and have a gist, a re-union, a small meeting and it’s just alluring.
Every business has its challenges and Cream Slices is not an exception. What are your challenges?
The number one challenge is power. If we have electricity constantly for two weeks, we can do better business. If we can sort out the power issue, it will really be helpful for the business. Secondly, human resources is quite crucial. People don’t want to work and they want to be paid. People keep saying there are no jobs. There are actually jobs but it’s just that our people are just unemployable. You sometimes want to hire people and you interview like 50 persons and you can’t even employ any.
If a person wants to do the cake business on a large scale and walks up to you for advice. What would say to him/her?
The first thing I will ask the person is how ready are you to be patient?. You won’t make money in the first one or two years. When I first started, there were months my husband had to give me money to pay my staff. I couldn’t pay my staff conveniently, because the quality was so high. When you produce high quality stuff and few people patronize, you can’t break-even. A lot of people told me to reduce the quality but I refused . I know someone who was in the party business and along the line, the person said I no longer do it, because it’s difficult and I am not making money. I told the person you have only done this thing for two years, common. You have to be ready to pay the price. I would also tell such persons that you must know how to do it. You can’t open a shop because probably Cream Slices has a big shop. If you do not know how to do the business, it wouldn’t work out . There are days your workers might disappoint and if you don’t know how to do it, you might not be able to cope and you would be in big trouble. One of my workers called me today and said “madam I will not be coming to work today”. If I didn’t know what to do, I could have been in trouble because people have ordered cakes. You need to be able to do what you are asking your workers to do, every part of it. You must be able to bake a cake from the beginning to the end, the finishing, everything. I will just tell you , you have to be passionate and patient, you will not make money in the first one or two years and then you must know the job.
What lessons have you learnt in business?
My parents were business persons. My dad was a businessman and he made us participate in his business. He gave us roles and responsibilities at a very young age like going to make supplies for him. My mum, for example was a seamstress and she had a very big shop. After school everyday, we always went to her shop. So, for me, I already understood how workers behave. I usually see things they do, how they backbite, how they play politics. For instance, when we were growing up, one of my mother’s workers was so deft and if she made clothes my mum didn’t even need to see it because she was very good. Suddenly, she didn’t come to work and we all liked her. My mum went looking for her until she saw the person that introduced her who said the lady stopped work because “someone was earning more than her”. Meanwhile, the other person lied to her, because the person was not earning as much as she was. The person wanted her to leave so that he could be comfortable and they won’t sack him. I had the advantage of also knowing how people behave and how to keep your cost down. I have also learnt that you need to treat your customers well. For example, when customers come in to ask for cakes, I save their numbers and then when they call me, I address them with their names and they are so excited and happy that I know their names. I might not even know if the person is light skinned or dark skinned but the fact that I have called them by their names makes them so happy. At Christmas, I appreciate them and call them from time to time. When they come into the shop, I attend to them promptly. However, that’s sometimes very difficult, beacuse I’m very busy. Also when your workers have issues, you can help them. These are things I learnt even before I started my business. I have also learnt that you must reward any worker that has been with you for years with something extra . Even when others leave, the worker would stay, because you know he/she would do things for you that other people would not do.
How profitable is the cake business?
It’s profitable enough to pay rent, my workers and to also keep myself running. However, I must say that I didn’t go into cakes to make money, though it might sound funny. It was more of someone giving me an idea and me trying it out passionately. I started before I got married and even at that time, I didn’t need money at all, I had no dependants at all, there was no big issue I needed money for. Any business from which you can pay your staff, your rents, restock and still have some change is not bad.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs?
Source : SunOnline