What started out as a hobby for Janice Siew, 35, turned out to be her springboard into the world of e-commerce.
Even when she was in corporate banking, Janice was already baking cakes for family and friends on the side as she found it to be therapeutic after a long day at the office.
In 2014, she chanced upon a free Le Cordon Bleu demonstration class which offered candidates the golden opportunity of a Diplôme de Pâtisserie scholarship. The pastry diploma offered students a chance to learn under world class pastry chefs according to the highest standards of patisserie culinary art.
In 2015, she left her banking career behind and opened Petiteserie which was a play on the French word pâtisserie (pastry) and petite (“because I’m small-sized”) at Amaya Saujana, Selangor.
“It was a very small café space catering to the condominium residents. We focused more on wholesale business rather than walk-in customers as we mostly supplied cakes and pastries to other cafes,” explained Janice, adding that some of her bestsellers were the Chendol Cake and Gula Melaka Banana Cake.
When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced in March 2020, Janice suddenly found herself thrown into the deep end, having to learn all about e-commerce from scratch for her business to survive.
“It was a huge change and surprisingly, e-commerce helped to pivot the brand. We had organised pop-up stalls in the past to build customer base so people were familiar with the name Petiteserie. People also knew about us through word-of-mouth. Before this, we stayed behind the scenes and our brand was not really known. Now, our products are appreciated more and there is better connection with customers. During MCO, there was a surge of customers as it was more convenient and safer to buy food online since people couldn’t leave their homes.” she explained.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure about opening during the partial lockdown but my staff needed the work. So, I started small by just baking for the residents. Then, we experimented with Surprise Gift Boxes that had an assortment of 10 pastries in a box and sold this online. This was a big hit as people bought this as care-packs or gifts during the MCO,” she said.
“At first, I was a one-woman shop, working from 7am to midnight. I had to bake the whole day with the help of two workers, and then look into the paperwork and delivery myself at night. But thankfully, e-commerce provided a lifeline to many small businesses like us.”
By working with online F&B delivery platforms such as Beepit and Eat Cake Today, she could streamline her business and concentrate on her baking with 5 workers to help her. Petiteserie has also set up its own website and online shop.
Although selling online has its challenges, she prefers conducting business via e-commerce.
“The margins are better, and we can establish customer loyalty and offer better customer service. While quantity selling sounds attractive, the orders are uncertain. It’s not easy to manage a wholesale business as cafes can easily cancel orders without a signed contract to supply pastries. There was also the constant pressure of having to find new clients,” she explained.
Delivery and making sure the food arrive in one piece can sometimes be problematic. Sometimes, you might end up having to bear the cost of damage or deal with unreasonable customers. By riding on platforms, it takes away the toil of administration so that you can concentrate wholly on baking; it is also easier to scale up.
“Otherwise, you would need someone to help you manage the orders and delivery, and run the social media channels and promotions. What’s good about e-commerce though is that you can easily make changes to the menu as things are so fluid. For example, depending on customers’ feedback, you can change to offer more comfort food or savoury dishes to adapt to the situation,” she said.
Janice feels that her Le Cordon Bleu training helped her to obtain the necessary skills and confidence to be more creative and explore the F&B industry. When everything goes back to normal after this pandemic, e-commerce will naturally take a backseat as people look forward to dining out again at cafes and having face-to-face contact. This means Petiteserie will be supplying pastries and cakes to cafes again, but now, she has an alternative avenue to market her products.
“E-commerce is a growing niche in the F&B industry and opportunities abound. You must have the passion, put in the hard work and persevere. It also helps to understand the market and have a different mindset as selling online is quite different,” she advised.
Will she ever consider going back to the world of corporate banking again?
“Absolutely not!” Janice answered firmly.
Regardless whether you intend to go into e-commerce or just bake for fun, a Diplôme de Pâtisserie will definitely be a worthwhile investment.
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