Have you ever walked through an Art Fair or Farmer’s Market and wondered how you might turn your hobby into a business? This month we interviewed Leslie Van Valkenberg to learn how she turned her love of baking and direct sales into a unique business. Through careful research and a dose of creativity, she created Pizzelle Pastries.
Q: When did you start your business and what was behind your desire to start? What makes
your business unique?
I began Pizzelle Pastries January 1, 2013. I lived in Fountain Hills at the time and attended a local farmer’s market that was held in the center of town. I walked around and saw the delicious, home-made cupcakes, pies, jams and sauces. As I strolled the market, I noticed how each vendor set up his or her individual booth. Some booths were very creative and enticing, others were not. From a marketing perspective, I found that very interesting. Since I have always enjoyed direct sales, I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to own my own business. I would sell a product no one else made, and I could set up my little 10X10 space with flare and make it look elegant. So I attended several other farmers markets trying to decide on a home-baked dessert no one else was offering. I did not want to be in competition with other vendors and certainly did not want to copy anyone else. I did not see pizzelles at any market I attended, so I decided that would be my niche. The interesting thing about pizzelles is that, of people who have had them before, they often have an emotional connection with that cookie. They will say, “Oh, my neighbor used to make these for me!” or, “My grandmother would send us a coffee can FULL of these each Christmas!” I had one iron already so I went on Ebay and bought a few more. I spent the next several weeks creating the perfect recipe, my very own recipe using no butter or salt and very little sugar, and then began making unique flavors using spices, flavorings, extracts, seeds, and imported liqueurs.
Q: What are some pros and cons of selling at a market or craft fair? Do you sell your goods
anywhere besides farmer’s markets and craft fairs?
Pros: When I offer samples of new flavors and customers like the taste and texture of the pizzelles so much so that they purchase a container to bring home to enjoy with their family. It is quite an honor when they come back to purchase more as gifts for their loved ones! That is very validating of my efforts. I enjoy the creative process so I am able to continually create new flavors. Direct sales is dynamic, each day is different because people are so unique. There are so many angles to owning my own business: creating unique flavors, designing the packaging, creating an inviting booth space, and purchasing fresh ingredients for the best price.
Cons: offering samples can be frustrating because there are those who want free food with no intention on purchasing the product. As a small business owner, sampling is expensive because I am taking live product and giving it away.
Q: What steps did you take to begin selling at a market or fair?
#1: I made certain I did not choose a product anyone else offered. I wanted to offer something very
#2: I researched what permits and licenses were required for my particular product;
#3: I researched the cost of various markets and fairs. I then factored in the cost of my booth space and
all overhead, as well as my time baking, setting up my booth and standing there selling my product, in an
effort to determine how much I would need to make for each market or fair to financially “break even.”
#4: From a marketing perspective, I researched which colors elicited positive emotions and determined
colors I would use to set up my booth and package my product. Identity and product branding had to be
determined first because everything else branched off from that point forward.
Q: What do you do to make your booth/table more “inviting” to a potential customer?
I was very intentional in the colors I chose for my “brand.” Purple is a “royal” color and I wanted my booth to look elegant and appeal to a more sophisticated consumer. I want my booth to look intentional, like everything in the space is planned and purposeful. I want it to look clean and professional. The labeling has to look clean and professional. Symmetry is important. A table full of product evenly distributed
looks better than a table with containers laying about, looking “picked over.” Perhaps MOST important– I never, ever sit at my booth. You will never see a chair in my booth. I stand at the entrance to greet my guests and to offer samples of my pizzelles. I am ready to talk to them about my product. When I walk up to a booth and see the vendor sitting, to me the perception is that they do not care enough to stand, that they do not need my business or they are relaxing and I do not want to disturb them.
Q: How do you currently market your goods/services? What advice do you have for
someone just starting out?
I market my product by posting on Facebook although I do not use social media to its potential. Most of my advertising is done “word of mouth.”
I sell at Mesa Marketplace— 10550 E Baseline Rd. (corner of Baseline and Signal Butte)– so that foot traffic is substantial. I need to access better marketing techniques.
I would advise someone just starting out you have to choose a product you believe in and stand behind it 100%— otherwise, you will not be successful. Do not copy someone else. Choose to sell or bake something unique to you– that you have created. It makes farmers markets more interesting when there is diversity.
Q: Please share with us any other tips you feel would be beneficial for a new business
Decide how much time and space you want to invest in this business venture. Because I sell a perishable product, I am constantly baking so that the product is fresh. There are times I feel I have lost balance in my life because this business takes over. I work between 70-80 hours a week because the pizzelles are made from an iron– two at a time– so standing for 14 hours at a time to fill an order of 1500 pizzelles is not unusual. It is exhausting! It would be beneficial to determine ahead of time if you have the energy and/or desire to offer a perishable product instead of a product you can box up and easily store in a closet or on a garage shelf until the following weekend or next event.
Are you a small business owner who started your journey in a similar way? What advice do you have for someone wanting to take those first steps into turning their hobby or passion into a business? Share your comments below!