Hi! I’m back with a great interview with our resident fondant queen and December 2021 site artist Lorena Rodríguez! You are going to love it because we are going to really dive deep into her fondant kit business – why she works almost exclusively with fondant, what inspires her designs, how she translates those designs into kits, and more!
As a reminder, these glorious cookies made by Lorena are the ones we featured in December, and, like all of her fondant work, they are very clean and precise, and rich with detail! What’s more, all of the elements are made with molds that Lorena makes and sells as part of her business, Lorena’s Sweets.
Just stunning, right?!
Now, from Lorena’s earlier forum intro, we learned that Lorena started her professional life as a graphic and interior designer for top companies and individuals in Costa Rica, where she lives. She got into cookies after baking and designing cookie favors for her friends and family on holidays. Word quickly spread that she had a keen eye for elegance and detail and, soon after in 2018, Lorena launched her business. She now designs, fabricates, and ships worldwide an ever-growing collection of cookie decorating kits (the current total is about 31!). Her goal is to allow anyone – from amateurs to pro bakers - to create professional-looking cookie favors in a very simple and practical way. Because each of Lorena's kits is a complete aesthetic solution, one needn’t worry about design and composition. One can just follow Lorena’s simple instructions to create fondant masterpieces!
With that bit of background behind us, let’s move forward to learn how Lorena’s business started, how it works today, and where it might be headed!
JMU: Hi, Lorena! It’s so great to have you here to share your business experiences with us. Thanks again for contributing your lovely work for our December banner and backdrop, and for contributing to the site so consistently throughout the year, for years! I eagerly await your every post to see what you come up with next!
Now, let’s jump right into questions! I’d like to start with your business basics. When you launched Lorena’s Sweets back in 2018, did you start right out with your fondant mold and cutter kits, or did you sell decorated cookies first? Did you always intend for your kits to be focused on the making of fondant cookies, or did your business just evolve that way over time?
LR: I have always been an entrepreneur and independent, even when working in the area of interior design. Also, my hobbies have always been cooking and baking, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. For many years during Christmastime, I enjoyed baking and decorating cookies for my friends and family. I love the experience of trying new things, and I am not afraid of it.
As I had always thought about developing my own business, I decided during 2017 to start making cookies with one of my recipes, with the hope that it might be successful. As I started baking and making samples, I fell in love with fondant. Then my passion for making cookies started to grow. I started to take photographs of my designs that I thought turned out to be lovely, and, surprisingly, people started to congratulate me and admire my creations. That’s when I realized I could start a new career in my life.
JMU: And why did you ultimately choose fondant of all the possible cookie decorating mediums for your work and for your kits?
LR: I tried icing and it never worked for me, and climate conditions in Costa Rica did not help. Fondant was fun for me, and the minute I started working with it, I fell in love.
JMU: People seem to have a love-hate relationship with fondant. Some people love it for the dimension and detail it provides to designs, but hate the flavor and texture of it on cookies. Whereas others swear by the flavor and texture. What do you have to say to the nay-sayers? (And, be nice! LOL, )
LR: Having fun with my creations is most important to me. Surprising people is my desire, and making people happy, even for a moment, by looking at my cookies and admiring the edible art is my happiness. However, I do have to admit that the flavor and taste and the whole experience is also important. So, for people who have difficulties with fondant flavor, I recommend either using fondant with shortbread cookies, which have a high (and delicious) butter content, or applying a very thin layer of fondant.
JMU: Good advice! What is special about the fondant you use that makes it so wonderful on cookies? Is there something unique about the recipe? Is it your recipe, and, if so, how did you go about developing it? If not, whose fondant, homemade or store-bought, do you use, and why?
LR: I do not use my own recipe. I use a store-bought brand of fondant called Satin Ice. It works for my creations, and it’s practical and allows for beautiful colors. I am happy with it; it works just fine for me.
JMU: Coincidentally, I use that brand too when making fondant cutouts or appliqués. I find it dries faster than other brands, which is desirable for that application. Now, changing topics . . . What was the biggest challenge you encountered when first starting out in your business, and how did you overcome it?
LR: Challenges are never-ending. I always have to find solutions, learn about new products, adapt to market changes, and promote the business. At the beginning, building the business was actually easier because I designed the cookies, and everybody loved them. Now I am in the second phase of my business, which is making it grow, and becoming known in coffee shops, bakeries, and stores in the USA and around the world.
JMU: Yes, based on my stencil and cutter experience, I can attest to the fact that growing a product, particularly in international markets, can be challenging. First, different markets have different product likes and dislikes, and then, of course, one has to find distributors and other partners who have a common drive for excellence. Now for the converse of my previous question . . . what or who was the biggest boon to your business when just starting out? Why?
LR: My biggest supporter and angel in this adventure is a couple from North America who I met many years back through interior design projects. They have always supported and believed in me, and they gave me the strength to turn this idea into business.
JMU: Ooh, lucky you! I could use a few more angels in my life right about now! As a follow-on to my last question, what advice do you have for those launching sweets businesses?
LR: Follow your dreams, and believe in yourself; practice to perfection; do not compete; be yourself; and be happy with who you are and what creations you are able to develop. When you experience failure, remember that it is just a part of growth, and you will overcome and learn from difficulties.
JMU: More great advice! Thanks! Can you describe to readers what’s in one of your typical kits and how much it costs? How did you decide on this particular kit composition and pricing? Our readers always have questions about how to best price their cookies/products, so what’s your approach?
LR: What I create is a concept for each kit, and I develop all of the necessary tools to create a finished product that can be reproduced successfully by my customers. The price is set depending on the types and amounts of tools (cutters, food-grade silicone molds, etc.) included and on the instructions, number of recipes, and so on. I also have a free class on my website that teaches how to use my kits. My dream is my customers making fantastic finished cookies, and so I ensure that all of my kits contain only high-quality materials. You can see typical kit compositions and pricing here on my site.
JMU: You’ve launched so many kits at this point. How many do you release per year, and is it at all difficult to continue to come up with fresh, new designs? Where do you most often draw inspiration for your kit designs?
LR: My designs are based on seasonal celebrations through the year. With my customers, I celebrate important events such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving. So I join in with all of my customers to create happier moments. When an event includes the joy of handmade cookies, I trust the celebration is even more joyful. I continue to develop new designs because this is what I truly love to do.
JMU: Do you actually produce all of your molds and cutters singlehandedly, from design through manufacturing and marketing? Or do you outsource some aspects of this work? Or have a staff that assists with certain tasks? For instance, I noticed a graphic designer by the name of Esteban Lopez Meoño listed on your site. What role does he play on your team? I ask all of these questions because I personally struggle with maintaining my stencil and cutter lines at a high level even with the support of a small team behind me. I’m looking for useful time and people management tips myself!
LR: Esteban Lopez has played a very important role in my business. For this reason, I decided to include him on my website as he helps me continuously with inspiration for new creations.
I control the whole chain of production: first comes the design, then the manufacturing, and then the marketing. I do all of these functions internally, and, at this stage, my biggest challenge is sales growth. I have already delivered my product to 60 different countries around the world.
JMU: Wow, what impressive distribution! What is (are) the most challenging part(s) of bringing a new kit to market? How do you typically address (or overcome) that challenge (those challenges)?
LR: Marketing and selling are most important for me at the moment. For this reason, I appreciate the opportunity you’ve provided to expose my brand and my work. I need to be known by many, especially people who appreciate the work behind what I do. When I sell a kit, it means so much to me. Esteban and I challenge each other to bring the best of our capacity to each kit, so they sell well.
JMU: Do you have a favorite kit, and, if so, why?
LR: Not really. I love all of the finished products. Each one has a special meaning for me, and it is also exciting to receive feedback from my followers and fans on Instagram and Facebook. That feedback keeps me motivated to continue developing more material.
JMU: Great, I hope you do because every kit is quite beautiful. Now, if you were to launch your kit business all over again, what, if anything, would you do differently, and why?
LR: This business has been a total adventure for me, and I do not regret the mistakes or the number of hours spent working on designs and trials, because I know that all of the prior work has given me the confidence that I have now.
JMU: Now for my final two questions . . . First, where would you like to see your business three years from now? Do you have particular sales or growth targets? Or new product ideas? What might you do differently with your business going forward?
LR: Yes, my dream is that my brand positions itself as the one that reaches out to cookie lovers who bake at home and in bakeries and coffee shops in the United States and all over the world. I would like to promote the passion of cookie decorating. I would like to be able to distribute my kits to many points of sale, and make partners around the world who can follow me in this adventure, replicate my cookies, and promote the purchase of my kits.
I also have a vision to show to many women that taking steps to have independent earnings is the path to freedom. So, I would like to encourage women to make the effort to establish their own independent businesses. And with cookies, the business is not only exciting; it is a source of enjoyment. Remember that my cookies mean celebration!
JMU: I will! And, my second question: where would you like to see yourself as a cookie decorator in the next three years? Are there skills you would like to grow? Any new or different techniques or activities that you’d like to cultivate? Or anything else?!
LR: I would like to continue growing my brand and my image as an independent woman developing my own business. Techniques that I can learn are welcome; if any new techniques or materials excite me, then I’ll be the first to be all over them. Let’s see what the future brings.
JMU: Indeed – I really look forward to seeing how you shape your future! Thanks again for spending time with us here in this interview and for sharing your expertise on Cookie Connection week in and week out! I wish you all the luck in taking your business to its next level!
Cookie and photo credits: Lorena Rodríguez
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!