A love of baking and a quirk of fate saw Annette Miller become a sugar craft expert and when the opportunity to open her own shop arose in 2015, she moved from creating cakes in a friend’s back room, to larger premises next door. Focusing on making celebration and festive cakes for a range of occasions, Annette’s business, The Cake Miller, grew steadily. “As well as the cake-making, I offered one to one tutorials for people interested in learning sugar craft flower making,” she says. “I was also in the process of converting the back room into a space to offer classes for more people.”
When COVID-19 arrived, Annette found herself in a difficult situation. “The pandemic hit me really bad,” she explains. “My business is luxury cakes and when people are cutting back and focusing on necessities, a luxury cake isn’t one of them.” However, being part of a vibrant and tight knit local community was a real support. “Everyone pulled together, and this is an incredible community to be part of,” she says. “There’s a lot of loyalty to local businesses but even with that, it’s difficult to survive when people are on a restricted income.”
It brought the community together and as well as providing an important extra revenue stream for the business, it also increased awareness of what the business offered during the rest of the weekAnnette Miller, The Cake Miller
Bringing people together
In response, Annette adapted her deli counter offering to provide platters for children’s birthday celebrations, for example, and continued to sell ice cream and coffee. “Anything to keep footfall through the shop and to maintain turnover,” she says. Inspired by her love of cooking, Annette also decided to offer a Caribbean cook-out on the front drive of the shop. Navigating the council rules around premises classified as retail meant that the cook-outs could only happen occasionally and on a Sunday, but the response was overwhelming.
“It brought the community together and as well as providing an important extra revenue stream for the business, it also increased awareness of what the business offered during the rest of the week,” says Annette. “There were people who didn’t even know we were there or what we provided, but now they’ll pop by to pick up some cake or grab a takeaway coffee.” It also fuelled Annette’s vision of creating a community hub.
I’d used savings to start my first business and the process of getting funding seemed quite daunting, but Dominique, my small business adviser at HSBC, took the time to talk through it.Annette Miller, The Cake Miller
Taking a bold step
“A community hub was an idea I’d had for some time, but the pandemic and the response to it really drove it forward,” she says. When the chance to take on other premises just four doors away from the cake shop came up, Annette admits that it was a big decision. “Initially a lot of people thought I was off my trolley,” she says. “I did have to think hard about it – here I was struggling to keep my first shop open, and now I was considering taking on another. But there was a definite interest from within the community in establishing the cook-outs as a regular thing and giving people the opportunity to try different cuisine from different Caribbean islands.”
With the decision made, Annette approached HSBC for support. “I’d used savings to start my first business,” says Annette, “and the process of getting funding seemed quite daunting, but Dominique, my small business adviser at HSBC, took the time to talk through it. She helped me prepare a business plan and a cash forecast and really formalise everything.”
With the premises secured and remedial work underway, Annette is excited to push on with her plans. “Initially because of the rules around social distancing, we’re opening as a takeaway, bringing together a group of ladies with Caribbean heritage to cook together and offer a range of different foods. However, ultimately, I’d like to open up the front into a café or a hub for people to come together; where there will be Caribbean food available if they want, but there’s no pressure to buy. What there is, is a place to meet, where I’m providing a little dose of joy.”