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Live Chat with Dotty Raleigh of Sugar Dot Cookies

Hi, Dotty! Welcome to Cookie Connection! I'm thrilled to have you here to chat today!
Before we jump into Q&A, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Dotty reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through!
Thanks so much Julia! I'm thrilled to be here!
Please also ask just one question at a time - it's easier for our guests to keep track of questions and for others to follow the dialogue this way. So, let's get started!
So I have a question or two to get the ball rolling. Ready? You operate out of shared commercial space now, but did you start selling cookies out of your home? If so, what precipitated your move into commercial space, and why did you opt for a shared situation?
Julia, I've used the same commercial space since I started selling cookies. Using a commercial kitchen is a requirement in Maryland. When I started selling 2 1/2 years ago, the space was a bakery. I used the kitchen when the bakery was closed. I was only doing cookies part time then so it worked just fine. About a year ago, the owner decided to close the bakery as a retail store. She wanted to keep the space to work on her own custom orders and her concessions business. My business had out-grown the little time that I had there and I was ready to go full time. The owner offered to rent to me on a monthly basis and wanted to find another baker to share the space with us. A lady that makes wedding cakes soon joined us. The three of us have been sharing the space since then. It has worked out beautifully!
You are very fortunate to have found such a situation! It took me close to a year to find the right commercial space for me!
And a follow-up to my first question: Sharing space is a great way to minimize costs of commercialization, but how do you manage the relationship so that each person is assured access to space and equipment when she needs it? And how do you apportion rent and other building-related expenses to each other? Is it an even split, or based on activity use of the building or something else?
I am indeed so fortunate! It's hard and expensive to find kitchen space!
I shared with a caterer in the beginning - and that was hard, because they were using a lot of heat when I needed the kitchen cold!
Julia, the three of us work really well together - and AROUND each other. The space is divided into two rooms - the kitchen and the front room. All of my supplies are in the front room and that's where I spend 99% of my time- decorating cookies, making dough and icing, and hosting parties/classes. I only need the kitchen area to bake and wash dishes. I get there every morning at about 8:30. The other ladies usually come in later in the day, so I do all of my baking first thing in the morning. The other two ladies keep all of their supplies in the kitchen. They coordinate with each other for kitchen use. The wedding cake lady and I each pay a flat monthly rent to the bakery owner. There's no limit on the number of hours/days that I can be there.
commercial kitchen cookie decorating classes royal icing middletown frederick md maryland
Awesome! I love the pictures . . . and there are more, folks!
commercial kitchen cookie decorating classes royal icing middletown frederick maryland md
The kitchen is through those doors.
sugar dot cookies commercial kitchen food business (2)
Gorgeous space!
Thank you! I love it there!
Saying hello and welcome! You baking space is beautiful.
We are moving onto live questions now, and I see we have a LOT queued up. So let's get started on those . . .
Thank you Tina!
Hi, Tina! Tina has moderator status because she will soon be leading some new chats for us. More on that soon!
What percentage of cookies sold are pre-ordered?
Cookie Celebration, All of my cookies are pre-ordered. I don't keep any in stock for walk in.
Lots from Cookie Celebration - thanks for the questions. Coming at you now, Dotty!
welcome   thanks to both of you
Do you sell your partners' items in the store as well?
Thanks for coming Donna!
Hi, Dona!
We don't have retail hours or a store front. All three of our businesses are custom orders with pick ups by appointment.
I think that's a smart way to start a business; it really helps to manage the work flow. It can be extremely distracting to have customers popping in unless you have a front-of-the-house staff as well.
Do you cook daily?
I was trying to think of good questions but Cookie Celebration has pretty much covered everything.
Absolutely Julia. And you don't have to pay someone to be there all day, everyday.
hello to every one    congrats tina
I know, first time I actually remembered to log in!! I like the forum. Thank you both!
Cookie Celebration, I'm there everyday. I don't actually bake everyday.
Store hours?
No regular hours. All three of us come and go. Pick ups are by appointment.
Do you have employees?
Cookie Celebration is on a roll! Dona, got your question too, but it's a few questions down in the queue, so it may be a little while getting to it.
No, I don't have employees. I would love to have someone make my dough and cut shapes. I need to speak with my accountant to figure out how that would work.
When I got big enough, the first tasks I "farmed out" to others were the repeatable ones; it took a while for employees to work up to the decorating, which requires a lot more training and skill.
Agreed Julia!
This is also a good way to manage labor costs; start people on the easy stuff that you know they can knock out while training them.
Great advice!
Ok, you may not be comfortable answering the next one, but if so, I'm sure people would love some hard numbers . . .
Annual sales vs net earnings?
If you don't want to share absolute figures, maybe percentages? net income as a percent of sales, for instance?
LOL. I don't have any hard numbers. Last year at tax time, I had only been cookieing full time for half the year. Let's just say that my annual profit was okay. I'm hoping and expecting this year to be better!
Typically net earnings are slim in the food-service business, a few percent of sales. That was my best experience in my eight years in business.
Busiest time of year?
smiling at Julia          wondering if I could pull off a free apprenticeship   lol
Buenos días y bienvenida
love the idea of farming out the easy tasks! It would be wonderful to just decorate!!! Heaven!
Spring and Fall are very busy with weddings! I really don't get a lot of orders for holidays - except Christmas. I limit those orders to certain cookie collections.
It amazes me to hear that Julia. These gals online ask solid prices and seem to have blooming businesses.
Tina, I don't think many have the overhead that a commercial establishment has. It's a whole different ball game when you have a shop.
Plus, I wonder if everyone is tracking all of their real costs. When you operate in the house, it's hard to account for shared expenses like gas, electricity, rent, etc.
Oh I can imagine-I have looked into it and the numbers just wouldn't work.
I'm going to turn to a question from Dona and then come back to more of Cookie Celebration's questions.
For me here , that is.
That's why the monthly rent works for me. I could never do it renting hourly like so many kitchens offer
Not sure what this is in reference to, but posting . . .
great idea for Christmas ordering. I hadn't thought of that. I'd certainly be a lot less frazzled!!
Hi, Julia   and   Dotty! Wondering how you got the word out, Dotty? And where in Maryland? What classes do you teach and where is the info?
I think Cookie Celebration was referring to limiting Christmas orders to certain collections. Sure keeps me sane!
Donna, in the beginning, just facebook and my website. I was part time for a year and a half, so I got enough business to keep me busy.
Ahh, sorry, missed that point. The back end of the chat is pretty busy today. Rushing to keep up with you all, which is great!
I'm in Middletown, outside of Frederick, MD. I teach private, one-on-one classes. I hold monthly "parties". Kids birthday parties on occasion. The info is on my website.
I think you've covered the next question a bit, but if you have anything to add, please do . . .
How is your product marketed?
Yep, think I covered that. Not much marketing!
Good for you; that can be a huge challenge for some.
I find a lot of cookiers venture into more profitable arenas such as teaching; it is a bit frustrating for me as it isn't a path I want to take. Without classes, would your business be profitable?
Interesting question. Curious to know too.
Absolutely! The money from parties is nice. It's a lot of prep work and clean up. So I work for many hours for a two hour party. I could make pretty close to the same money working on an order. The classes are probably more profitable for me.
Teaching is A LOT more profitable for me because I have NO overhead associated with it. I get paid to travel and the host venue does all of the organization and purchasing of materials. I still have a TON of time in prepping showpieces for the classes, but I like teaching a a whole lot better than production. The latter can get tedious very fast, and I don't like to repeat designs very often.
So many ways to play in the bakery business . . . which is nice.
Do you sell just locally or online as well?
I LOVE the teaching and parties. I'd be happy doing more of them!
how was dotty able to promote her cookies          where is she in Maryland          she typed she gives classes        where is the info on her classes
Most of my orders are placed online through the "contact me" button on my website. Even local people go there to get things started. Occasionally I'll get a phone call or an email from a repeat customer.
Dona, your questions above were already answered earlier in the chat, Please scroll through the transcript.
you don't have to answer those questions    thanks julia
Do you have a lot of local competition?
I just opened your site    thanks    will take a look\
Ok, jumping to a question from One Smart Cookie and will return to more of Cookie Celebration's in bit.
Not that I know of Tina! At least not close by. There are certainly a lot of cookiers in the DC/MD/VA area. Seems to be enough orders to go around!
Do you think teaching classes hurts your sales?
Do you mean cookie sales, One Smart Cookie?
Yes, sorry!
A comment from Cookie Celebration related to an earlier comment . . .
Oh, I track my costs down to the penny on QuickBooks. You have to keep it tight! There are incubators too that people can use where you rent space by the hour.
I've wondered about that in the past! No, I don't think it hurts my sales. I just do one-on-ones. Usually they travel a bit of a distance for them. As I said before, there are plenty of orders to go around. I turn down about as many orders as I accept.
That is excellent for you. Then there is not a problem with pricing wars and you get what you ask for your work.
What is your largest order? smallest order? time constraints to fill orders?
Yes, Cookie Celebration, I keep tight track of my income and expenses on
No pricing wars that I know of. Though occasionally someone will come back to me and say they found the cookies cheaper somewhere else. My cookies are definitely not the least expensive around.
Great question Dona!
Sorry gang, comments get moderated (except for Tina's), and this means they go to the very bottom of the queue. So it sometimes takes me a while to see and post them.
smiling   loving the entire convo
My largest order was for a wedding this spring. It was about $2,000. 24 cookies is my minimum for an order. I like to have at least two weeks lead on an order, but I'm usually booked before then.
OK, back to you, Cookie Celebration . . .
wowwwwwwwwwww   very nice
double WOW!!
My business is going well but not enough to sustain a living. That is why these forums are so valuable! I've been trying to build the numbers but it seems branching out is the only real way? I guess a question for both ladies?
Most of the cookies for that big order were $7 each. Yes, $7!
I honestly feel it's tough to make a custom cookie-only business very profitable. They command much lower prices than wedding cakes, and depending on the set, can almost be as time-consuming to make.
CC, branching out to teaching? Not necessarily. I think it could be done with just cookies if you're able to price high enough. I'm fortunate that my area can tolerate the prices. Shipping cookies also helps to reach people that can afford it.
Yes, Julia. The wedding cake lady and I will be working at the same time. She'll finish a cake before I've finished a large order. She usually makes more on the cake.
And I mean lower on a price per serving/cookie basis. I could command upwards of $10 a serving on most cakes. So I am a huge advocate of product diversification, as we talked about in Susan Carberry's chat.
$10 per serving is awesome!
i guess by now you can tell I am at a crossroads with my business and pondering which direction to take it so thank you both for your invaluable insight!
Did you do local fairs in the beginning and did they work for you on the marketing side or the sales side to cover costs or both?
Thanks for being here CC! All the best to you!
This is a REALLY valuable chat - thanks to Dotty. Awesome to get this practical business advice from her!
I feel like a hog for space! Sorry guys. Feel free Julia to bump me for others' questions!!
I've only done one "fair" type of thing. It was last Christmas at a hospital. It was great. I pretty much sold out. Nurses like cookies!
Thank you so much Julia!
I am, Cookie Celebration. But we will get to all of your questions too - they're awesome. I appreciate you putting such energy into them!
you have good questions  cookiecelebration    enjoying the chat
really great chat and soooo valuable. Just gobbling it all up!
Back to Dona for a bit.
You all are so sweet. I'm glad it's been helpful.
I believe this is in reference to the large wedding order you did . . .
your wedding   were the cookies one layer ?
What do you mean by "one layer", Dona? Are you asking how they were decorated to get that $7 price?
Yes, one layer. They were my DC monument/buildings cookies. Those are my most expensive cookies at $7 each.
My DC cookies....
sugar cookies decorated custom royal icing frederick md  cherry blossom flower panda monument white house capitol capital washington dc
BTW, an aside on cookie pricing. Dotty just said that her cookies can take her longer than her partners' cakes, so it's no surprise to me that prices should be running $7 or more for decorated cookies, to be profitable. They are extremely time-consuming!
So cute! Love the photo additions to the chat today!
Julia   like a linzer  or   oreo
Your site is awesome and really professional and I can see how this generates the amount of work you have. Your work is beautiful and well worth your asking prices.
Thank you so much Tina!!
Moving onto windshere's question . . . then back to Cookie Celebration!
I see now from the posted pic      very nice
Hello Ladies,
Just wanted to say  I am always in awe of the beautiful work you do and you are all an inspiration!
Question: Do you do anything different for cookies that people may want to keep as moments?  I've heard some coat them with anything from hairspray to lacquer?  What do you suggest?
Your sites (Facebook and website) are really nice and easy to explore. Beautiful cookies!
I'm afraid that I really don't know much about that. I did have one customer ask me about preserving cookies. I just did some googling and sent her links. Sweetopia has info on preserving cookies.
Thanks so much CC!
I make cookies that need to keep for a long time for photo shoots and classes . . .
I haven't had success with edible lacquers; I find they can spatter and spot a lot . . .
I just store mine in airtight containers and out of direct light and they stay looking good for a very long time.
I have some on display in my house too; I just keep them out of direct light and they do fine.
The sunlight definitely fades them! Many of the cookies I have hanging on my wall at the bakery are extremely faded.
oh, great question from winds here-people are asking me more about preserving cookies lately! I, personally, like to eat them!!!
Hi Dotty! So happy to be here! I want to ask if you are Mom/wife? That is the area I have a problem . . . before I start making cookies I used to cook almost everyday, and now maybe once or twice a week
Hi Yolis! I am a wife and mom, though my "kids" are 21 and 22. During the school year, we had an empty nest. Both of my guys are home now. One will return to school this month. The other just graduated so will be here for a little while. My "kids" are old and don't need me like little ones. I don't know how I would do it if my kids were little! I start at the bakery early every morning and TRY to get home to make dinner most days.
I just added a few minutes to the chat to make sure we can get through all the questions in the queue. I think we can get to them all in the next 15 minutes, but . . .
if not, we have a little buffer now.
Sounds good Julia. Thanks!
A request I get a lot - do you discount for large orders?
Good question.
Thank you
don't know how you Moms do it - I am guessing super-powers of some sort!!!!
thanks for extending the time  julia
Never, ever, ever!!!! More ingredients, more supplies, more time. I tell my customers that there is no savings to pass on to them with a large order. That's it. No big explanation or apologies.
No problem. I do need to wrap up by 11:15 central though, so I think we can only take the questions already in the queue (4) and maybe a couple more. Busy decorating day for me!
TOTALLY AGREE on no discounts for volume; there are few economies of scale in this biz - except or possibly mixing larger batches of dough, but for that you need a large and very expensive commercial-grade mixer.
How do you wrap, present cookies? Platters, individual with ribbon, toppers?
Totally agreed
Whew, thank goodness on not discounting, Dotty. I say the same thing to wrinkled brows. Oh well.
Unfortunately it is a sticky subject many times. People want discount on numbers and don't get it.
I offer platters for pick up or individual favor bags with curling ribbon for pick up or shipping. Bags/ribbon is additional .25 each. I'll add tags or toppers if they have them designed. I'll print/cut/attach for an additional .50 each.
I say let those customers walk, Tina! They are not what you need if you are making custom, highly labor-intensive stuff.
Dotty, do you also account for your packaging costs in those prices - meaning the time spent packaging up the cookies, not the materials. That can take a ton of time.
want to get my thank you in early before the session ends! Sooo very grateful for your time and knowledge ladies! Much appreciated!
Thanks, CC - I've still got one of your questions to post!
agree, Julia. I finally standardized mine after many packaging trials.
It probably doesn't cover all of my time. I never bothered to figure out the numbers. The bags/ribbon cost a lot less than .25 each. Probably only pennies.
I'm grateful for your questions CC! Thank you for being here!
Good thing to do, CC. I spent a lot of time timing myself to establish labor standards when I started my biz - time to mix dough, time to mix icing, time to make certain types of decorations . . .
. . . then it became much easier to price even a custom order. I would just tally up the different items going into or onto a cake, for instance; apply the labor standards; and then have a decent final price.
You indicated people use your online form to order . . . are most orders from posted pictures or do you get a lot of custom requests?
Me too! It was frustrating to time EVERY phase but it was so valuable in establishing my foothold on pricing and sticking to it!!
I have a lot of photos on my website! Yes, I'd say most people order from my photos. I make a LOT of repeat designs. I do get custom requests also.
Two more question in the queue! Last call if there are others!
Hi, everyone =) I'm loving this chat so much! great info!! I saw u ship cookies to other places, i want to start doing it but am afraid they won't survive to the next city. Any tips on how to wrap them?
I don't have a question, but just wanted to say thank you for sharing.
Waving hello from Virginia
I was terrified to start shipping and resisted for quite a while! Lucky for me I had cookie friends to walk me through it. Lots of bubble wrap! I have a tutorial on shipping that I'll be posting on my blog shortly. If you google, you'll find a lot of shipping tutorials posted.
Dotty, What technique is your favorite for decorating a cookie?
*Waving back!* Thanks for being here 2 Sweets!
I keep things pretty simple. I use a bag and icing. No stencils, air brush, stamps, etc. I do love marbling and brush embroidery.
Have you used mesh stencils?
Never even heard of mesh stencils!
I have, if we're talking about the same thing, Dona - they work great
Much easier to control the icing distribution in the stenciled area.
thank you! i will check out your blog
thanks  for your answers to my questions    purchased from evil cake genius   not sure im happy
stares at Julia      pshawww not for me   I cried
I got mine elsewhere, Dona. Forgetting where off the top of my head, so it may be the product and not you!
Coincidentally, I just tried some stenciling today. It wasn't pretty!
I can't believe that. Not pretty!
One last question from . . . guess who? (teasing, of course!)
Great question on shipping - do you ship during these dreadful summer months?
lol! Agree, stencils get takes practice!
smiling   I was furious with myself    I usually do good stenciling  lol
Ha ha. They were a mess.
I ship all year long. Haven't heard any complaints regarding weather messing with things.
Great question from CC.
In fact, great questions from CC throughout the chat - and from everyone. I really appreciate the enthusiasm that went into questions today!
Thank you both for taking the time out of your busy schedules and sharing with us. Great chatting with you and wishing you all a wonderful weekend Kisses from Greece!
I had someone post a disastrous example of shipping during the summer heat.
I do too! Thank you all soooo much! Thank you Julia! I hope to see some of you at CookieCon!
Uh oh Julia. Scary.
But I think it was because her cookies weren't completely dry before she bagged them, so they steamed and bled.
im happy    always happy
Great, thank you, Dotty, for such a lively, practical and informative chat!
Thank YOU!
I wish you a great CookieCon! Marvelous chat!
Bye all! Thank you!
I also hope to still do an in-depth written interview with Dotty for the site, so if any of you have further questions for her that you want me to address, then please email them to me.
Closing the chat now. Thanks again, everyone!
thanks again
This chat has ended.
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