Fay Millar gave up a career as a news editor and created Brighton Cakes with fellow single mum Adele. Now they have big plans for their Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows brand too. Fay shares her ambitions with us.
What’s your background?
I was originally a journalist and news editor when I fell pregnant with my first daughter. It was made virtually impossible for me to go back into my old job, and the alternatives they offered were not suitable – not anything like my job or equivalent to it in terms of pay, experience, etc. I wasn’t left with an awful lot of choice so I resigned and went freelance.
During this time I also thought about turning the cakes which had been a hobby up until that point into a business, and I basically said if I get approval from Environmental Health I will go for it. They said ‘yes’ and that is pretty much how it started! The company began life as Pink Rose Cakes and has ebbed and flowed along those lines ever since, fitting around family commitments and having another daughter.
How did Brighton Cakes come about?
We decided on a rebrand last summer and came up with Brighton Cakes based on the fact we are Brighton-based and we want our company to reflect that cool, edgy, fun and funky vibe Brighton seems to have in abundance. It was also definitely time for a change and a move away from the saccharine pinks and pale pastel colours which populate the wedding industry.
How do you split the running of the business between you?
Originally Adele came to me wanting to learn how to make and decorate cakes so sort of began interning for me! She has learned an awful lot over the last few years and is now more of a partner than anything else, and takes a full and active role in all major decisions.
We work well together because our personalities compliment each other – she is very talkative and I am less so, so we tend to deal with the clients that fit our respective personalities. She tends to do a lot more of the social media side of things whilst I concentrate on the accounting and marketing. However, we both (reluctantly!!) do the selling bit.
What was your initial vision, and how has it changed?
My initial vision with Pink Rose Cakes was to make bespoke wedding and celebration cakes. We still do that and I guess that is our core business, but tied in with the revamp we have expanded to incorporate cake workshops and classes. We’re alsp planning a more off-the-peg range of celebration and wedding cakes.
We will still have a bespoke service but our other cakes will be available to buy through our website – they will be made fresh to order but people will be able to see the design, the pricing, the size. They can pay there and then, choose the flavour and other details and then the cake will be ready a few days later.
The other major thing to have changed with us is the launch of Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows – this is our gourmet marshmallow range which we have just started selling online and in a number of local cafes. It is the part of the business we are really driving forward with.
What inspired your branding?
We love airbrushing, graffiti and tattoo art so it was kind of inspired by that – a little bit edgy, grungy and cool. We still do beautiful vintage cakes but we wanted to also set ourselves apart from other cake companies who are still very much pale pinks, blues and creams. We wanted to be a bit more punchy and noticeable, a bit more Brighton really.
The Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows was just one of those names which seemed to roll off the tongue with my surname, and the pun in the title. Our branding stemmed from that, and again living by Brighton – it was a little bit saucy. As a result we had our branding designed around lots of saucy seaside postcards and a cheeky figurine. We never wanted it to be too pretentious. Above all else we wanted it to be fun.
What have been your greatest business challenges?
We’re both single parents so one of the major headaches has been running the business alongside all our children’s school/nursery/play commitments , as well as the inevitable childhood illnesses and ailments which can mess up the best laid plans in a moment!
The other thing that’s been tough is the fact that we’re self-funding everything right now. We haven’t borrowed but rather have reinvested everything we have earned so we haven’t always been able to make the great leaps forward that we want to.
And your greatest achievements to date?
Launching the marshmallows and getting them into several cafes, and producing 850 boxed with logo cupcakes for Lebara Mobile.
What’s your vision for the business in five years?
We want to have our own Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows Bar – a cafe and cake shop but with primary focus on a marshmallows toasting menu. We also want attached to this a dedicated workshop space for teaching classes and commercial kitchen space for producing the cakes and marshmallows. We also hope to increase the number of cafes and restaurants we supply to, as well as have a strong online presence for gourmet marshmallows.
How do you balance your work with your family?
Badly! It’s really hard work and we don’t always succeed. There’s a constant pull between spending time with our children, and putting the hours of work we need into the business.
I basically cram as much as I can in during school hours and then start work again once the children are asleep, usually between 9-12pm. I also rely on friends and family sometimes to help look after them if we have a particularly busy week. It’s not easy and requires sometimes military-style precision planning, but it can be done!
What advice do you have for other ambitious mums?
Don’t give up your dreams. If you work hard enough, plan properly and follow through you can do it. Don’t be bullied by others into settling for what you ought to be doing, rather than what you really really want to do. And don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.
There seems to be a tendency among lots of businesses to assume that once you have children you somehow lose your mind and are suddenly useless in the workplace. I think far too many people write off women with children. You can succeed, you just need a little bit of flexibility. In fact, I think mums are some of the hardest-working people around because they don’t have the luxury of taking their time, they have to get it done as they have children to take care of. Just because you can’t always do a job 9-5 doesn’t mean you are less effective, or worse at it.
You can see more of Fay and Adele’s creations on their website.