Entrepreneurial Challenges in the Highly Specialised Wedding Cake Industry

Abstract

The purpose of this research study was to explore the entrepreneurial challenges in the highly specialised wedding cake industry. Accordingly, the unique constraints that the entrepreneurs in the sector are faced with were examined. The specialised wedding cake Industry is both artistic and intricate in nature. In addition, the industry is normally categorised as HVLV (high-variety low- volume), implying that the products manufactured are diverse in terms of variety, but limited with respect to volumes generated. The perishable nature of the products of the specialised wedding cake industry presents one of the greatest challenges to the entrepreneurs. The artistic nature of the industry, coupled with its high level of fragmentation has resulted in diverse kinds of traders. Therefore, the challenges and constraints that these various traders are faced with are also unique. Lack of synergy within the sector is yet another challenge for the traders. In view of that, this research study attempted to identify key entrepreneurial challenges faced by those in the specialised wedding cake industry. The target population for this study was the sole traders in the specialised wedding cake industry in Northern Ireland. A total of five entrepreneurs were assessed. Use was made of a semi-structured questionnaire for purposes of conducting face to face interview, to collect primary data for the study. Statistical tools of analysis (in this case, Statistical Package for Social Sciences) were used to analyses the data, which was later presented in tabular from. The main challenges that emerged from the study included financial constrain, lack of experience human capital, high cost of production, and perishable products.

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Background of the study

The Specialised Wedding Cake Industry is both artistic and intricate in nature. In addition, the industry is normally categorised as HVLV (high-variety low- volume), implying that the products manufactured are usually diverse in terms of variety, but limited with respect to volumes generated (Davis & McIntosh,2005, p. 10). Essentially, a majority of the business owners in the specialised wedding cake industry are entrepreneurs who are characterised by a reduced workforce, in addition to their imitation in affording modern means of business capital. For this reason, they are not in a position to produce high volumes of their products.

More often than not, these entrepreneurs operate on an order-basis, meaning that their levels of production differ throughout the year. Nevertheless, there is a need to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of business-owners in the specialised cake making industry, from the point of view that the process of cake manufacturing is more of an art, as opposed to science (Davis & McIntosh, 2005, p. 10). Accordingly, entrepreneurs in the specialised wedding cake industry endevour to make up for their inability to raise massive operational capital and human resource by integrating innovative techniques into their manufacturing process, such as the embracing of the concept of lean manufacturing.

The art of cake making therefore becomes a differential advantage for these small business operators (Fox, 2001 p. 175), when compared with their counterparts that concentrate on mass production. In this case, the artistic skills accompanying the entire process of cake making could be unique from one entrepreneur to another, in effect affording the best cake manufacturer a competitive advantage, relative to their counterparts. The implication here is that the artistic features of the cake manufacturing industry, if well harnessed, could act as a potential niche market for the industry players (Galloway, Rowbotham & Azhashemi, 2000, p. 9). Nevertheless, it is important to put in mind the fact that specialised wedding cakes are usually categorised as perishable commodities (Davis & McIntosh 2005, p. 12), owing to their short shelf life. For this reason, enormous challenges usually crop up, and the entrepreneurs in the industry have to face the challenge of ensuring that the product reaches the customer in the best quality, is fresh and wholesome. More importantly, the design of the wedding cake, along with the artistic features that could be different from one customer to the other, needs to be maintained, even as the entrepreneurs grapple with the issue of perishability of the commodity.

As can be seen, the challenges and constraints of the specialised wedding cake industry are rather unique (McCoy, 2001, p. 65). As a result, this sector has become quite fragmented. A number of sole traders in the sector have sought to explore those niche markets that best suit their business strategies. Another challenge that the specialised wedding cake industry has to contend with is that of the development of synergy within the industry. Due to a lacking synergy, it becomes quite difficult for these entrepreneurs to effectively manage their back office operations (Bridge, O’Neill & Martin, 2009, p. 23).

Entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry aim at producing products that are differentiated, relative to those of their competitors, with the intention of achieving a unique selling proposition. Nonetheless, the art of cake making and more so, the specialised wedding cake, is quite labour intensive. In addition, a lot of expertise in the area is a necessity, and a majority of the industry players finds it hard to locate the best human capital (Hvide, 2009, p. 1013).

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The issue of value that customers frequently attach to specialty wedding cake products is another matter altogether that needs to be addressed. In this regard, most of the customers are least aware of the artistic value attached to the process of cake making (Hvide 2009, p. 1013), and the resultant premium prices that this commodity ought to fetch from the niche market that it is able to curve. Consequently, entrepreneurs end up settling for far lower prices than they would have otherwise wished to receive (Baimiatzi, 2009, p. 207).

Bret (2006, p. 370) argues that there are significant limitations and barriers to growth that exists within the specialised wedding cake industry. Further, the author contends that the inconsistencies with regard to the financial performance of the firms in this industry also could result in organisational vulnerability and instability. It is therefore the intention of this research study to explore the key entrepreneurial challenges that industry players within the specialised wedding cake industry are faced with. In this case, the unique operational constraints of this high-variety, low-volume sector shall be explored. In addition, it is also the intention of this research study to examine those areas that the study respondents feel are fraught with complexity, so that a sound recommendation for future related studies may be formulated.

Importance of the research

Artistic business success is not clearly intuitive, and a study of the counterintuitive actions that have led others to success lends itself as an excellent overall research objective. Upon the completion of this study, a goal would be to increase the transparency of the experience of sole traders in this industry. Identifying commonalities and specific constraints will lay the groundwork for the development of theory for management of this unique type of business in order to maximize its potential. Reducing the trial and error approach of its business management would aid those greatly in the field, and would contribute to the overall sustainable health of this part of the economy. Results of this study will also inspire other craft-related organisations that struggle to perfect the business ends of their trades (Sampson 2006, p. 34).

The ultimate application of this research would be to explore the major issues that present themselves to entrepreneurs of this type, and to lay the foundation for further research to imbue a measure of stability into this sector. Similarly, it would be a goal to allow artisans to focus on their work with more confidence and attention, and to add greater value to their differentiation strategies. Because the artistic differentiation these firms provide is so vital to their success, exploring the parameters of a typical organisational setting of this kind will help to develop a consciousness of how best to organise and address these complex constraints (Martin 2004, p. 44).

A great deal of time is spent in uncertainty and stress because the unique designs must be created with strict time restraints, and with little prior assurance of success. This leads owners to devote all of their energy into the ad hoc production process (Davis & McIntosh 2005, p. 11) without taking a step back to evaluate business processes objectively and to de-couple a highly intricate process. They are unable to truly get a realistic perspective on business concerns and to recognise common patterns as other business owners could.

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General research objectives

  • To identify key entrepreneurial challenges faced by those in the specialised wedding cake industry, a high-variety, low-volume sector with unique operational constraints. Additionally to explore what specific areas entrepreneurs feel are especially complex.

Specific research objectives

  • To infer several key problem areas that significantly constrain this highly specialized field, and the nature of these problems (to decouple a complex problem to attempt organisation and objectivity).
  • To evaluate the actions of businesses in this niche trade, and to gain a fuller understanding of the way they currently do business. Areas to explore include:
  • Marketing
  • Operations & Quality Management Practices
  • Organisational Behaviour
  • Financial Management
  • To provide foundational data for the inspiration of theoretical models that will guide success within this area.
  • Obtain an exploratory account of entrepreneurs’ experience of trading in this complex environment.
  • To recommend means of improving business production and the fundamental basis of strategy within this sector based upon the interpretation of findings. This work is also likely to lend insight to craftsmen in other highly specialized trades with similarly complex constraints that preclude the traditional style of management as a way to guide success.

 Literature review

The Specialized Wedding Cake Industry

The Specialized Wedding Cake Industry is characterised by a high level of intricacy, and produces a low volume of goods that are high in variety as part of an overall strategy of product differentiation (Porter, 1980, p. 33). The products are essentially forms of art that are perishable. This brings unique constraints and challenges to this particular market (McCoy, 2001, p. 65). The sector is fragmented and consists of several sole traders. Synergy from a business and management perspective is difficult to develop in the industry, and many entrepreneurs find it difficult to manage their back office operations successfully without the visible examples from others (Bridge et al, 2009, p. 25). Their mission is to produce differentiated products that are highly inspiring; however, these products are very time consuming to make and have only a limited shelf life.

Additionally, the sculptures that are made are relatively low in customer value compared with traditional fine art, and the true price for their worth often goes unrecognised. This imprisons this particular niche to low to medium profit making when at its best (Baimiatzi 2009, 209). Significant barriers and limitations to growth exist within the industry, and the inconsistency in these firms’ financial performance can lead to organisational instability and vulnerability (Bret, 2006, p. 373).

The specialised wedding cake industry has over the years gained prominence both in terms of the technological innovations that have been adapted by the industry players to enhance production and improve efficiency, as well as an increase in the number of entrepreneurs that are involved in the business. One of the benefits of establishing a cottage industry specialising in for example, wedding cakes, is that an entrepreneur is best placed to curve a niche market for his/her products, with the result that now, they can produce tailor-made products according to the specifications within an already existing target market. In essence, an entrepreneur who is able to identify and fill such a niche market stands to benefit in terms of increased sales revenues and business expansion (Martin, 2004, p. 44), as opposed to a large manufacturer intent on mass production.

The market of today no longer appears keen on embracing mass production (Fox, 2001, 178), as was the case in for example, during the 1960s. A lot of astute entrepreneurs are now out to champion the concept of mass customisation (Fox, 2001, p. 178). Entrepreneurs who have made their investments in the specialised wedding cake industry may be seen as proponents of mass customisation, given that in this day and age, clients are out to combine glamour and uniqueness at their wedding, and what a better way to integrate the two, than in a specialised wedding cake that has been produced to the specifications of the client? Thanks to new innovations in technology, individual products and designs can now be prepared on a large scale.

In addition, Chase and colleagues (2001) opine that the issue of customisation, with respect to the specialised wedding cake industry has immensely benefited from the advent of information technology. Accordingly, cake manufacturers tailor the information that is provided by a customer to come up with a customised product. In this case, the ingredients, along with other inputs and decorations of the cake can be produced to specifications. As a result, consumers have gained from a variety of possibilities over the last few years. As a result of the ensuing trend of customisation, entrepreneurs have also not been left behind, in their quest to seize novel possibilities, with a view to establishing loyalty bonds to their potential customers.

Moore and Gooderl (2008) opine that customisation ranks as the leading of the six fundamental elements that decrease or increase consumer attention. To a majority of the companies, customer relationship management (CRM) appears to be the strategy that they have sought to pursue, in their quest to maintain and nurture cordial relationships with their clients. With market customisation however, aside from the maintenance of the company-client connection, this concept also tailor products in such a manner as to suit a specific setting of the market. This way, the company in question is in a position to present to their customers a product whose design best fit a specific group in the market.

Moreover, there is also a rise in terms of the level of satisfaction that is generated by customers. For companies to attain their set objectives there is a need for them to fully comprehend their target market. Most of the small business entrepreneurs are often constrained by financial and manpower resources and consequently, they fail to capitalise on niche marketing, effectively losing on one of the greatest strengths that they have over their larger counterparts; small size. According to Crow (2009, p. 1), more and more customers are opting for customised products, even if this shall mean them paying a higher price compared to mass-produced goods. Further, the author reveals that there are a number of benefits that companies stand to gain by offering customised products to their customers.

Not only are the requirements of the customers satisfied by way of utilising existing infrastructure and framework, but companies could also apply diverse models of pricing to suit the needs of different markets, in effect establishing loyal customers. Separately, Christensen and Poulfelt (2006, p. 19) offers that customised products ensures that the public image of a company in question, as perceived in the eyes of the public, is changed positively.

Barriers faced by manufacturing enterprises

The growth of an enterprise is an area that has over time elicited a lot of interest from researchers and academicians alike. From an evolutionary point of view, the growth as well as development of a business could be viewed as an open process whose end result is quite unpredictable. Accordingly, there is a connection between the elements of learning and adaptation taking place at a time when industry players have to contend with the environment of a business, as McGee and others (2009, p. 977) have noted.

Other than this point of view of the business process, preceding research studies have shown that there exist a number of ‘static factors of influence’ (Moore & Gooderl 2008, p. 189). These entail the individual entrepreneurs, the professional backgrounds of the entrepreneurs in question, along with their entrepreneurial preferences and capabilities, technological as well as branch environment, and also the enterprise’s macro environment. Stacey (2000, p. 54) has recognised four research approaches to the growth of business, with special emphasis on business management, personality, broader and secure markets, as well as organisational development. At this point, the issue of constraining or enabling elements of an enterprise becomes very important, in effect prompting researchers into the growth of enterprise to pose two questions: (1) are firms in a position to experience growth and (2) are the entrepreneur wiling to let their businesses grow?

The first question points at possible and practical growth impediments to a business. Such impediments could be a pointer towards an entrepreneur’s personal capabilities, or even the external or internal constraints with regard to the resources of a firm. Such demographic characteristics as age and gender have also been seen to impact on the growth patterns of an enterprise, with respect to say, available access to a firm’s resources (Slack, Chambers & Johnson 2003, p. 126). For instances, Bridge, O’Neill and Martin (2009, p. 214) indicates that enterprises that are female-headed have a higher likelihood of being faced with limited start-up capital, when compared with similar enterprises under the management of a male.

In contrast, Blackburn and Kovalainen (2009, p. 138 ) have provided a broad exploration of research studies to support the claim that the factors of a firm’s growth fails to confirm that the performance of a business is influenced in any way by gender, as a demographic factor. An entrepreneur’s human capital is yet another vital element that impacts greatly on the growth of a business (Blackburn & Kovalainen 2009, p. 138). In this regard, issues such as professionalism, schooling, experience in management, and prior knowledge of entrepreneurship, are explored. The role that is played by human capital in this case, has to do with the ability of an entrepreneur to access business resources, in addition to the entrepreneurial know-how that they possess.

There is a tendency for habitual entrepreneurs to become more successful when it comes to the issue of starting a new business venture, thanks to the business network that they already enjoy. This is in addition to the fact that they are better placed to recognise and seize business opportunities, in comparison with their less-experienced counterparts (Bret, 2006, p. 381). Bret (2006, p. 381) further opines that unemployment and by extension, diminished self-confidence, along with professional inexperience impact greatly on the success of a business, when it comes to the issue of employment growth. In this case, employment growth has been seen to be considerably inferior in those enterprises that have been established by unemployed founders, and it also bears a correlation with unemployment duration.

Business growth paths are also greatly influenced by institutional and environmental infrastructure. Such institutional factors include labour laws and markets, and they have the capability to impede on attempts by an entrepreneur to recruit additional employees (Bamiatzi & Hall 2009, p. 217). For the last couple of years, there has been a concerted effort by researchers and academicians alike to lay more emphasis on the role played by the modernisation of industrial services and technology deployment, in an attempt at promoting business competitiveness. Even as there exists evidence to suggest that technological innovations play a significant role in the creation of novel business opportunities, thanks to efforts by entrepreneurs, researchers have been concerned more with the performances of both the mature as well as the existing industries. Special attention has been emphasised on medium -sized enterprises dealing with specialty products, such as the highly specialised wedding cake industry.

Consecutive research studies have indicated that such small-sized enterprises are usually faced by a multitude of problems, not least of which is the ability to introduce and implement modern techniques of manufacturing. This is especially the case due to the lack of financial resources, technical expertise, and time (Bridge et al, 2009, p. 27). Moreover, the problem of the small-sized enterprises is exacerbated by the fact that these firms are fraught with weaknesses in terms of training of their human resource. In addition, there is also the issue of the relationship that firms normally enjoy with their customers, which at best, has been described as either short-term, or poorly organised

In addition, the fact that a majority of the entrepreneurs are not in a position to access the required amount of finance to allow for expansion, is another problem for the small-sized firms (Bridge, 2009, p. 27). Equipment vendors, private consultants, institutions of higher learning, as well as the conventional programs on economic development, usually neglect, lack the means, or are not in an economic position to fulfil the specific requirements of these small-sized enterprises. Accordingly, the entrepreneurs of these small-sized firms fail to capitalise on their niche markets.

Managing complexity in businesses

In their publication titled, “Complexity: Customization’s Evil Twin,” Strategy & Leadership”, Anderson, Hagan, Reifel and Stettler (2006, p. 22) offer sound concepts of managing complexity in businesses. They assert a theoretical underpinning for distinguishing between good complexity and bad in an organisation and offer ways of organising it. They advocate the continuous scanning for complexity drivers across the organisation and the uncompromising reconfiguration or eradication of non-value adding activities. This work is very valuable to the current project as it provides a general framework of categorising a highly intricate and complex process. The downside to their work is that it focuses heavily on the financial services sector, and the assertions developed were formulated from the researchers’ experience in the information technology (IT) industry.

The authors opine that in a majority of the industries, a lot of the companies have to grapple with the pilling up of products that are custom-designed, information technology (IT) functions and services. These kinds of complexities, the authors contend, becomes quite value draining and unnecessary when companies are not in a position to confront the issue and if trade-off between on the one hand, complexity and on the other hand, customisation (Anderson et al, 2006, p. 24) exists. Accordingly, it becomes quite hard for companies to harmonise customisation-related costs, the ideal price that customised products needs to be charged, as well as the value that customers end up deriving from such products.

The complexity theory, as applied in business organisation analysis, seeks to provide a better insight regarding the character of current business approaches. The act of exploring an organisation from the point of view of a complex system results in a manifold of consequences, regarding the expectations of the prevailing techniques of business management, and also the expectations of the management (Companys & McMullen 2007, p. 87). The scenario is exacerbated in a case whereby the business is an enterprise under the management of an owner-manager, since the system is made even more complex by the fact that he or she has also to assume the role of the controller of the business. Even then, it should not by any means imply that the process of strategic planning regarding the management of the business needs to be abandoned altogether.

It is important to put in mind that there are additional roles that are usually fulfilled by a business, when it comes to the process of planning. Accordingly, there is a need to lay more emphasis on environmental monitoring of an organisation, as opposed to just concentrating on the prediction of accuracy of the business processes. According to Macado and Cassim (2004, p. 169), scenario planning and environmental scanning could be regarded as potential approaches that an organisation could embrace to create awareness and at the same time enhance the level of connectivity that it enjoys with the surrounding environment.

A leader or a manager to an organisation is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that an organisation is under control. So that a business system may be controlled in the best possible way, there is a need for its management to fully comprehend its interactions and elements (Macado & Cassim, 2004, p. 169). Further, the management is also called upon to realise that in as far as a complex system is concerned one may not always have a full control of all the developments in such a system. In this case, a manager needs to assume the role of an enabler or facilitator with respect to the expected change in an organisation. This way, the business may be assured of the right person to provide the much-needed guidance.

All too often, entrepreneurs and business owners are faced with a multitude of challenges that entails economic, competition, government regulations, finances, denial, employee issues and distractions, amongst others. These challenges are usually viewed as complexities to the issue of carrying out business. A number of authors (for example, Stacey, 2000, p. 71), has even suggested that these complexities are as a result of the “price of admission for being a successful entrepreneur”. On the other hand, when the entrepreneurs and owner-manager fail to draw lessons from these kinds of complexities, chances are that the business, along with its owner, could end up getting crushed by them. At the moment, a majority of the large organisations characterised by a diverse range of products appears to be losing money, as their smaller competitors, who have opted to specialise in highly customised or standardised products increasingly gain profitability.

Studies that have been carried out on the large organisations indicate that one of the leading causes of the failure by the large organisations to maintain profitability is the poor techniques adopted by these organisations in terms of handling of complexities.

For the large organisations, the arriving at benefits/trade offs decision processes proves to be a handicap, thanks to the decision making process of the organisations that is at best, decentralised (Slack, Chambers & Johnson, 2003, p. 39). In this case, the different managers endeavour to handle separately the challenges that their department receives, and the overall managers are left to cope with the decisions arrived at.

Ultimately, the decisions that are arrived at only acts to compound the complexity in the organisation devoid of generating offsetting competitive and customer benefits. These exponential interactions, with respect to the operational and strategic decisions and challenges of a business, make up the complexities of such business entities, in effect resulting in ruthless reductions in terms of the level of competitiveness of such a business entity (Tibken, 2008, p. R. 9). Faced with rising problems of cost, an increasing number of businesses are today instituting measures to not only identify, but also curtail complexity costs. There is a need to put in mind that it is quite possible to both prevent and reverse excessive complexity. To start with, in order to examining the sources and the extent of the complexity costs, there is a need to first provide transparency on the issue of cost information. This way, it becomes quite easy to establish a foundation for the creation of ways and means through which complexity may be influenced.

Seeing that a lot of the entrepreneurs in the specialised wedding cake industry are sole traders, the process of decision making rests on the owner-managers. The integration of ownership of a business entity and a management of the same further complicates their operations. Complexities in business establishments are an area that managers have to contend with on a daily basis, as they seek to arrive at crucial business decisions. Both the internal as well as the external factors of a business will act to compound the complexity of a business in question, and it is important therefore that managers are in a position to devise strategies on how to overcome these.

Christensen and Woolfell (2006, p. 67) highlights the need for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to ensure that they are in a position to manage potential complexities during turbulent times, and also when they are faced with high levels of complexities. The authors further argue that decisions from the management usually bring about complexity within an organisation with regard to the amount of challenges that a firm is in a position to handle. In the case of owner-managed enterprises (such as the specialised wedding cake businesses), these challenges could be more daunting, because the management and the ownership is one and the same thing. Separately, Moore and Gooderl (2008, p. 73) asserts that a majority of owner-managers are often determined to go it alone, in terms of the decision making process and managing of the business, on the basis of their small size, and also with a view to ensuring that they maintain their operating expenses low.

Therefore, it is not unusual for a conflict of interest to ensure, in effect paving way for business complexity. It is important to note that business complexity is not just tied down to the high-variety low- volume processing firms; even the most successful firms fall victim, at times. According to Darly Wyckoff, “Success often hurts, and even mortally wounds, well-run small businesses” (Byrnes, 2005, p.1). This should therefore act as a wake-up call to the small owner-managed businesses that they should not take their small size for granted.

Byrnes (2005, p. 1) has reported that Daryl Wyckoff in his book,‘ Organizational Formality and Performance in the Motor Carrier Industry’, talks about the “Bermuda Triangle of motor carrier profitability.” , in reference to a somewhat extraordinary pattern of profitability that was exhibited by the trucking companies. In this case, large and small companies alike were found to be extremely profitable, whereas the medium sized ones proved rather unprofitable. What Wyckoff discovered was that those small trucking firms whose owners had strong entrepreneurial skills enjoyed robust growth and prosperity. These are the companies that are operated by managers who are at best described as hands-on. According to Wyckoff, the prosperity and growth of the companies went on so long as the owner-managers had a direct control over the entire firm’s operations. On the other hand, this author discovered that as the small firms enjoyed robust growth, they would often establish terminal facilities network, in effect ushering in complexities to the firm. By and by, this form of complexity network barred the firm’s entrepreneurs from personally having a controlling stake in all the operations of the firm.

Complexity theory has found a wide application in the areas of organisational studies (Stacey, 2000, p. 25). A rationale for the importance of the theory of complexity with respect to management, by and large begins with a sound account of the management practices and theories that are already in existence. In this case, there is a need to note that such pre-existing practices and theories also appears to somewhat emphasise the theory’s unappreciated limitations that characterises it. On the basis of the fact that some of the principle results as regards the issue of complexity theory has to do with a lack of a defined and effective prediction of the future with certainty, a lot of the managers usually hold a common presumption that making a decision on the direction that their organisations ought to take is part of their job description.

At a time when the management of an organisation is faced with information overload, coupled with progressive levels of complexity, there is a tendency for managers or even entrepreneurs to react in such a manner as is indicative of their ambiguity intolerance. Targets, factors, as well as the structures of an organisation require to be nailed down to specifics. In addition, uncertainty either gets denied, or ignored. In this case, mission enunciation appears to be the main activity of the management of an organisation, along with the laying out of strategies, and the removal of deviation (Stacey, 2000, p. 27).

The final fortification against anxiety becomes the desire by the management to restore stability to the firm which, if left unattended, could become quite overwhelming. Virtually all of the aforementioned reflexes of management, a majority of which appears rather incontrovertibly rational, are in the actual sense, rather counter-productive, if at all they are examined from the point of view of the complexity theory. According to Stacey (2000, p. 27), organisations should endeavour to restrict themselves to their core competencies, have a strong foundation that relies on their key strengths, have the ability to get accustomed to the environment within the market, and at the same time maintain their focus on the anticipated end-results.

Notwithstanding the long-term planning which characterised businesses during the 1970s, strategic managers still take into account such activities as environmental analysis, goal formation, strategic control, and the process of evaluation and implementation of business strategies. On the other hand, complexity theory of management writers appears to differ with this perspective. Stacey (2000, p. 28) opines that this form of theory and practice in management is the leading trait of ‘over-rationalist thinking’, an approach that appears to have taken precedence following the successes of Descartes and Newton. The organisation is likened to the universe, taking into account the concept of ‘a giant piece of clockwork machinery’ (Cathers, 2003, p. 129). According to Cathers, clockwork machinery is seen as being wholly predictable, at least in principle. Similarly, sound management ought to obtain equally dependable performance.

Discoveries that have been made by complexity theorists indicate that not even the natural world functions in the manner related to a clockwork machinery. Following such a revelation, the onus is therefore on the managers to take into account these developments, in order to make informed decisions that would affect the future of their organisations. The repercussions, Stacey (2000, p. 27) has noted, cost to turn, literary, ‘management orthodoxy on its head’ (Stacey, 2000, p. 27).

Stacey has summarised these repercussions. To start with, when the complexity theory is analysed, this act alone results in a loss of its primacy. In addition, it is also hard to undertake long-term plans for a firm, and the vision of an organisation ends up remaining as mere illusions. Also, strong culture, coupled with consensus, is another danger altogether. From such a perspective, one might wonder the kinds of lessons that managers may stand to gain from complexity theory. Such lessons could loosely be categorised into two classes; detailed prescriptions, and general suggestions.

Lean thinking for HVLV processes

Jina and colleagues (1997, p. 7) have undertaken an exhaustive assessment of the barriers that manufacturing firms face in a high-variety low-volume production process when trying to apply a lean manufacturing system. The idea of process turbulence is discussed and it is suggested that the traditional strategy of lean manufacturing can be implemented to great effect here, but it must be tailored carefully to the HVLV business. This is because each HVLV business is highly variable in its structure, and is not typically smooth in its flow.

In a study of a bespoke furniture company in Australia, Mo and colleagues (2009, p. 98) suggest the allocation of two assembly lines; one for basic assembly, and one for varied assembly. This helps to minimise the confusion of the production process. This could most likely inform the most effective design of a cake shop. Jina et al (1997, p. 99) additionally assert that the best way to overcome a high number of parts and infinite materials is to maintain an inventory with common raw materials that are highly adaptable. They also introduce the importance of modularity in component parts design. Focusing on material flexibility is one of the most important features of regulating a highly varied process. In doing this, it places a heavy emphasis on the creativity and the skill of the craftsman, but it helps to streamline a cumbersome process.

Also known as lean manufacturing, lean production is a term that is used in reference to a practice of production that takes into account the utilisation of manufacturing resource, with a view to minimising the potential production wastes (Hisrich, Peters & Dean, 2005, p. 154). By and large, lean revolves around the issue of value creation for the product in question, while at the same time also minimising the amount of work that has to be expended in the manufacturing of the same product. The manufacturing of the highly specialised wedding cake could be regarded as a form of lean production, in the sense that the enterprises are characterised by a small workforce and most of the time, limited resources. As a result, it becomes important for the entrepreneurs to ensure that they reduce potential production wastes in order to not only remain competitive in an otherwise volatile marketing environment, but also to remain in business.

The philosophy behind lean production borrows heavily from TPS (Toyota Production System), but it was only in the 1990s that this concept came to be regarded as ‘lean’ (McGee et al, 2009, p. 972). The main theme that is employed by lean production is that of flow optimisation, by way of enhanced efficiency of production. This way, the need to decrease production wastes is taken care of, in addition to the utilisation of experimental techniques with a view to arriving at a decision on the most important elements of a production process, as opposed to a mere embracing of ideas that are already in existence (McGee et al, 2009, p. 972).

Entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry could borrow heavily from the concept of lean manufacturing, so enable them minimise as mush as possible potential productions wastes, given the high level of volatility of the industry. This is the very spirit that entrepreneurs the world over are keen on cultivating. A sound entrepreneur does not rely on the pre-existing principles of doing business, instead, they always seek to find the better way of accomplishing their goals in an effective and efficient manner, and the entrepreneurs in the specialised cake industry are no different.

The manufacturing industry in Japan is credited with the principles of lean production. Specifically, John Krafcik is credited with having coined this phrase, through his article titled, “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” that he penned in a 1988. The article revealed a term that is used in reference to tools that aids in the recognition and a balanced waste elimination. Following the elimination of wastes, the quality of a production process is seen to improve (Mo, Sigit & Myers, 2009), and consequently, the cost and time utilised in production is also seen to reduce. Further, lean manufacturing could entail the enhancement of smoothness of ‘flow’ of work, in effect resulting in progressively getting rid of unevenness, via the system, as opposed to ‘wasted reduction’ in isolation.

Gaps and limitations in the literature

A majority of the research available in literature appears to emphasise more on the manufacturing setting in small to medium size enterprises or large multinational companies. Most of the work done has highlighted the key problem areas for unique machine manufacturers, the aerospace industry, made-to-order furniture companies, or the financial services sector. It focuses on goods that can be re-worked, and whose materials do not deteriorate rapidly after acquisition. In the study by Mo et al (2009, p. 110) a heavy emphasis was placed on assembly line environments and the use of time studies was predominant. Most of the companies studied produce goods in the thousands, which is relatively small for a manufacturing firm, but for an independent artisanal craftsman this is a large number. Consequently, the research that has been carried out on the specialised wedding cake industry appears to be both sketchy and limited.

Furthermore, there is a limitation with regard to the attention that has been given to the challenges and constraints faced by entrepreneurs in this particular industry (specialised wedding cake industry), even as other sectors like the auto industry have been explored to great lengths by various academicians and researchers. Moreover, the issue of high-variety low-volume production process, as characterised by the specialised wedding cake industry, has also not been explored in-depth. It is therefore the intention of this research project to explore the entrepreneurial challenges and constraints for the specialised wedding cake industry, to provide a rich source of information for future research studies.

Methodology

Introduction

Undertaking research with a phenomenological approach appears to be the best way to acquire knowledge for this project. Developing information within a case study format will aid the researcher in obtaining knowledge that is rich and insightful. This will be the most appropriate methodology for the time scale allowed, and it will allow the main issues of the case to be explored qualitatively. Collecting primary data for this project is preferable to the examination of secondary data. Although secondary data may be obtained with greater ease, its relevance in answering the specific aims and objectives of this management project would be less accurate than would be new data specific to the problem.

In this section, the study attempts to shed light on the methods of research that were adopted, for purposes of facilitating in the collection of data and to help in answering of the research questions. Creswell (2003, p. 56) has defined research methodology as “the application of science-based procedures with a view to acquiring solutions to a number of research questions (Creswell, 2003, 57). According to Creswell (2003, p. 57), a research methodology supplies the necessary tools to aid in the carrying out of a research.

A research methodology is concerned with the entire whole conceptualization process of a study, an exploration of the research problems that requires to be examined, the formulation of research questions, data collection and choosing of tools for data collection, analysis of the collected data, and the eventual generation of the research findings. Even then, other researchers (for example, Creswell, 2003, p. 65; Patton, 2002, p. 78) have come up with alternative methods of research. Moreover, Creswell (2003, p. 65) suggests that the method selected for use in a given research study is determined by the objectives and problems that a research presents.

Furthermore, selecting a desirable method of research is determined by the context of the potential research. In addition, the availability of adequate literature for such a study shall also determine the research method that is adopted for a given research study, so that the relevant topics can be adequately assessed. In case this does not happen, there is a need for the conduction of further studies in order to fill in the remaining gap.

This research study is concerned with an exploration of the unique challenges and constraints that the entrepreneur within the specialised wedding cake industry in Northern Ireland are faced with.The primary purpose is to create an exploratory account of the reality of entrepreneurship in this difficult niche area, and to try and improve the performance of those currently operating in it. Their information will aid greatly in achieving this objective.

Research design

The definition of a qualitative research is not an easy task, bearing in mind that the term lacks its own distinctive paradigm or theory. In addition, qualitative research is not endowed with discrete sets of practical methods that could entirely be attributed to it. According to Patton (2002, p.79), qualitative methods offer detailed events description, interactions and situations between things and people providing detail and depth. Other researchers (for example, Creswell, 2003, p. 66) have viewed qualitative methods as a strategy which could be utilised in the analysis of the social truths of say, a phenomenon. Despite there being variations in as far as the definitions of a qualitative research goes, nevertheless these definitions all seem to have a common feature; they are aimed at providing a richer perceptive of social realities and processes.

Creswell (2008, p. 114) asserts that a research design forms the framework for collecting and utilising sets of data that aim to produce logical and appropriate findings with great accuracy, with a view to adequately and reasonably resting a research hypothesis. According to Creswell (2008, p. 114), qualitative research usually provides a more detailed and profound analysis of a specific research scenario. Unlike a quantitative research method, the openness between the parts is much higher, in effect facilitating in not only the generation of new theories, but also in a creation of the same.

Patton (2000, p. 79) has defined qualitative research as that research that takes into account verbal, detailed descriptions of cases, characteristics, systems and people usually acquire though interviewing, interaction with or by a mere observing of a study’s subjects. Qualitative methods of research find use especially in a case whereby the questions that a research study seeks to ask the subject of a study poses to them impossible or difficult puzzles to address through the application of other conventional approaches to research.

Williamson (2009, p.265) asserts that due to the appropriate and sensitive application of qualitative research, it has yielded new directions and insights. In this case, the goal of this research study was to identify key entrepreneurial challenges faced by those in the entrepreneurs in the specialised wedding cake industry, a high-variety, low-volume sector with unique operational constraints. A qualitative study was therefore deemed as the appropriate research method for adoption as it would blend well with the in-depth interview questionnaires that the study participants would be subjected to. This would then facilitate the study participants to shed light on those specific areas of the specialty wedding cake industry that they feel are fraught with complexity, in effect forming a fertile ground from the formulation of the study’s conclusion.

The philosophical background of qualitative methods lays emphasis on the benefits of better understanding the social interactions from an organization context, as well as the human behaviour meaning. This shall often entail the development of an emphatic understanding grounded on a subjective experience, and also an understanding of the links between behaviours and personal perceptions as the author attempt to do in this research.

For purposes of data collection for this research study, uses shall be made of qualitative research. According to Creswell (2008, p. 115), qualitative research is that research that entails verbal, detailed descriptions of cases, characteristics, systems and people usually acquire though interviewing, interaction with or by a mere observing of a study’s subjects. Qualitative method of research finds use especially in a case whereby the questions that a research study seeks to ask the subject of a study poses to them impossible of difficult puzzles to address through the application of other conventional approaches to research.

Williamson (2009, p. 265) asserts that due to the appropriate and sensitive application of qualitative research, it has yielded new direction and insights. Further, the research design adopted was also inductive in nature, and this was in line with the nature of a qualitative research that has often been seen to employ the inductive strategy, as a way of ensuring the completeness and specificity of a research design. According to Bogdan and Taylor (1998, p. 29), the dynamism of a qualitative research ensures that the relationship between on the one hand, the research subject and on the other hand, the researcher, in addition to the research setting to which they are subjected, remains open to change and development, in effect adding on to the richness of the potential research findings of a research study.

It is however important to note that a researcher is not in a position to control and manage all the various aspects of a research design. In this case, the flexibility and state of dynamism of a qualitative study makes such a control and management easier for a researcher. Bogdan and Taylor (1998, p. 31) contend that those research studies that tend to stick to inductive strategies are best conducted using a qualitative strategy. Furthermore, qualitative research enables a research study to integrate contextual conditions and yet detect issues that may crop up in the course of a study, further aiding in the development of theories that are grounded on empirical evidence.

In light of this, there is a need to appreciate the fact that the challenges and constraints that face entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry shall differ from one setting to another, hence the uniqueness of an individual entrepreneur. A qualitative research study would therefore make an allowance for this uniqueness, as opposed to a generalisation of research findings, in effect adding onto the richness of a study. Besides, qualitative methodologies tend to have high validity levels, while at the same time also preserving data flow in a chronological manner. In any case, qualitative data is rarely vulnerable to retrospective alterations (Creswell 2003, p. 57).

Data collection tool

A semi-structure and open-ended interview questionnaire is the tool of choice primary data collection of this research study. The choice of interview as a technique for primary data collection was chosen with the intention of enabling the researcher to better comprehend the fundamental motivations and reasons of the study respondents’ preferences, attitudes, and behaviour, regarding their involvement in the specialised wedding cake enterprises. In addition, interviews were seen by this researcher as a superior tool that would help to further explore the challenges and constraints that these entrepreneurs are usually faced with, regarding their operations in their designated sector of trade.

Further, by responding to the interviews, this would help the interviewer to assess the feelings and motives of the study respondent regarding the issue at hand. Moreover, an interview questionnaire enables the interview to remain in control throughout the interviewing process. There is also the issue of uniformity of approach for the various interviews that the study conducted, seeing that only a single interviewer was involved.

Study participants

The target population for this particular research study was the entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry in the Northern Ireland. The entrepreneurs of these organisations have a detailed memory of all the trials and tribulations that conceiving, starting-up, and continuing a specialty cake business. They have first hand experience, and are the focus of the study. Their pursuits in business lend weight and colour to the mere facts of this type of organisation.

A total of 8 letters were sent out to various entrepreneurs, informing potential participants of the research about the exact nature of the study and their contribution to it. Further, follow up calls were made to confirm those potential participants that were willing to take part in the study. In this case, 5 of the owner-managers (founding entrepreneurs) confirmed their willingness to take part in the interview for the research study.

Coding

In order to facilitate the exercise of data collection, and as a way of ensuring that the study participants remained anonymous, use was made of codes to represent the various entrepreneurs who took part in the study. Accordingly, the five participants were coded as A01, A02, A03, A04, and A05.

Data analysis

The tools that were used for the analysis of primary data used by this study were SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences) and Microsoft Excel (MS Excel). This was after the data collected using semi-structure and open-ended interview had been cleaned and edited.

Ethical considerations

When this research study was being carried out, the participants were informed of its purpose. Further, the researcher also communicated to the participants that their involvement was on a voluntary basis. In addition, the respondents were not coerced to provide answers to the research questions. The research interview questionnaires were safely locked in a secure place once the process of data editing and analysis had been completed. These were then destroyed following the process of transcription. In addition, the respondents were assured that their identity would remain anonymous, and that the research findings would only be used for purposes of informing the study at hand.

Research findings & discussion

  • What is the typical amount of money you would spend on marketing efforts in a one year period?
Participant Amount (in £)
A01 18500
A02 15000
A03 25500
A04 19000
A05 10000
  • What forms of communication would you use to promote your business?
Participant Form of communication
A01 Company website, E-mail, oral
A02 Company website, E-mail, brochures,
A03 Electronic media, E-mail, company website
A04 Posters, leaflets, brochures, company website
A05 Leaflets, E-mail, oral
  • What is the most challenging aspect of trading in the specific niche of the industry you are in?
Participant challenge
A01 Financial constraints
A02 experienced human capital
A03 Perishable of products
A04 Perishable products
A05 High cost of production
  • Describe from your experience what starting up a new company was like in this special niche.

A01: For me, starting this business 12 years ago was a daunting task. I was fresh from college at only 23 years of age, and with modest capital. I could therefore not access a loan from the bank, and my parents were not in a position to fund my project. I therefore had to improvise a lot. I could also not afford to employ an extra worker. Luckily, my background in food technology helped me to design unique cakes that suited my target market. I was also lucky to bake from my home, whereby I used my parents’ oven; so basically, the operating costs were further reduced. Getting my first customers was also tricky, because they first had to trust my work, and many are the times that I offered free wedding cakes, if only to enhance my business image. Through sheer perseverance and determination, I weathered the storm and today, I have a workforce of 9.

A02: Winning the trust of the customers was the most difficult part for me, in addition to the issue of venturing into an uncharted territory, not knowing what the outcome would be.

A03: I was venturing into a niche market that I had little experience on, and I was also a rookie in the specialty wedding cake industry. This was the most risky venture I have ever made in my life. I lost a lot of money in the beginning, but I did not give up.

A04: although I had managed to raise the required amount of capital from personal savings, nevertheless, I had little experience in the speciality wedding cake industry. I had no idea that the wedding cake is a product with such a short shelf-life, and so I lacked the necessary strategies in curbing this constraint. Further, the prices of the specialty wedding cake depend on the cake design, in addition to the number of ingredients used. Initially, I would fail to factor in such cots, resulting in a loss.

A05: I failed to take into account the unique selling propositions of my product, such as the design and finishes of the final product, in effect failing to lure customer to the new product. This also resulted in a poor positioning of my product, relative to my competitors. I was therefore losing potential customers as a result of my inexperience in the industry.

  • What is the average number of wedding cakes that are made in your organisation per year?
participant No. of wedding cakes (yearly)
A01 380
A02 420
A03 350
A04 300
A05 360
  • What is the average price earned per cake made?
Participant Av. price per cake
A01 £15,000
A02 £16,500
A03 £21,000
A04 £20,000
A05 £15,000
  • What is the typical percentage of material costs used per cake made?

A01: 40 percent

A02: 35 percent

A03: 45 percent

AO4: 33 percent

A05: 35 percent

  • Are there any staff employed in your business?
Participant Response
A01 yes
A02 yes
A03 yes
A04 yes
A05 yes
  • What are the specific drawbacks to having staff?
Participant Response
A01 – problems with employees union
A02 – increased operation costs
A03 – need for constant monitoring
A04 – differences in approach to the job
A05 – employees may not share a similar vision as that of the entrepreneur, hence could pull the business down
  • Is this skilled labour hard to retain?
Participant Response
A01 Yes, especially when you cannot motivate your skilled workers financially.
A02 No, with the right business strategy and vision, one can retain the bets skilled labour, and more so when you remunerate hem handsomely
A03 Yes, cake making is a skill and the skilled workers rare aware of their potential, so you need to give them the right working environment and pay them well.
A04 Personally, I believe employees are an asset that requires to be nurtured, which is why I pay them well, and give them a chance to grow and experiment with their skills. Therefore, I have not hard a problem retaining my skilled labour
A05 Employees may not share a similar vision as that of the entrepreneur, hence could pull the business down
  • Do you have an explicit financial strategy that guides you in steering your business to success?
Participant Response
A01 I engage the services of a financial advisor who helps me settle on the best investment decisions
A02 I have enrolled in a business management course in order to enhance my skills in handling the finances of my business
A03 My financial advisor has been very helpful in assisting me with the management of the financial aspects of the business
A04 I ensure that our operating costs do not exceed above 40 percent of our revenues, so that we can have financial resources to further expand our business
A05 We have established our production facility in the countryside to benefit from affordable rent for our premises and cheap labour
  • Do you make use of projective sales figures?
Participant Response
A01 Yes, they are our yardstick to financial success
A02 We utilise projected sales figures to set our sales targets
A03 Yes, the projected sales figure are a test our ability to set and achieve objectives.
A04 Projected sales figures enables us to make future financial predictions
A05 Yes, we make use of projected sales figure to guide our financial future
  • What would be the most difficult management activity that you face while operating your business?
Participant Response
A01 Managing our employees
A02 The production activities, especially ensuring that the products gets to the customer while still fresh
A03 Logistical problems, that is, ensuring the products gets to our customers on time
A04 The retention of our skilled employees
A05 Employees management
  • What is neglected the most when focusing on production?
Participant Response
A01 The selection of raw materials
A02 Mixing of ingredients
A03 Finishing step
A04 Incorporation of ingredients, such as emulsifiers, leavening agents and stabilisers
A05 inability to properly monitor the mixing step of ingredients
  • How do you think this could be rectified?
Participant Response
A01 Selection of high quality raw materials to end up wit a superior product
A02 Purchasing an automatic mixer
A03 Use of a skilled employee to handle the step of icing the cake
A04 A proper formulation of ingredients to include in the specialised wedding cake batter
A05 Use of an automatic mixer that can be adjusted accordingly

Conclusion

This research study was concerned with an examination of the entrepreneurial challenges in the highly specialised wedding cake industry, in which the unique constraints and challenges that the entrepreneurs in this industry are faced were explored. The Specialised Wedding Cake Industry is highly intricate and artistic in nature. In addition, the goods that are normally produced by the industry are of low volume, but high in variety, in effect serving as a product differentiation strategy for the industry (Porter, 1980, p. 33). Since products of the specialised wedding cake are a form of art that is perishable, this brings unique constraints and challenges to this particular market (McCoy, 2001, p. 65). The fact that this is a sector that is fragmented has paved the way for a number of sole traders. The development of synergy within the sector is quite difficult, and the entrepreneurs within the industry opt to produce differentiate products that are highly inspiring, in order to curve a niche market.

The main research objective was to identify key entrepreneurial challenges faced by those in the specialised wedding cake industry, a high-variety, low-volume sector with unique operational constraints. Additionally, the study also wished to explore what specific areas entrepreneurs feel are especially complex. It was the expectation of this research study that the results generated would seek to inspire other craft related organisations that struggle to perfect the business ends of their trades, by shedding light on the way that the entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry are bale to overcome the challenges and constraints that they are faced with.

The study participants that were assessed by this research study are the entrepreneurs within the specialised wedding cake industry in Northern Ireland. A qualitative research design was adopted for purposes of facilitating the collection of data from the study’s respondents. In this case, use was made of semi-structured questionnaires in the form of an interview that was administered on a face to face basis. Statistical tools of research were used to analyse the data, to enable a presentation for the same. According to the interviews that were conducted on the entrepreneurs, it emerged that the issue of capital to finance the start of the business was a major handicap, when these entrepreneurs were starting their business.

Winning the trust of the customers as a newcomer in the industry was also a big problem. Other entrepreneurs had ventured into their different niche markets without prior experience. Some of the entrepreneurs had no problem raising the necessary start-up capital, but they were handicapped by a lack of experience with regard to the specialty wedding cake industry. Still, they are other entrepreneurs that failed to take into account the unique selling proposition of their products, such as the design and dressing of the end product. Poor product positioning is yet another constraint for the entrepreneurs.

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