Sage Pop-Up Shop Winner: Katie Cross – Cake or Death

Small Business sat down with Katie Cross, director of vegan bakery Cake or Death, one of the three winners of the Small Business x Sage pop-up shop competition.

Cake or Death was one of three winning businesses chosen by our expert panel to occupy a pop-up shop space in London’s busy Oxford Street earlier this month.

The Devon-based bakery creates sumptuous brownies delivered through your letterbox in iconic pink leopard-print boxes. The Independent named the mail-order bakery Best Letterbox Treat in 2020.

Lifelong baking enthusiast Katie Cross started her vegan cake business in 2019 selling directly to bakeries, cafés and restaurants. She pivoted the business to selling direct during the pandemic.

Before her reinvention as a star baker, Katie Cross enjoyed a successful career as a fundraiser and marketer in the charity sector, working for the NSPCC and Greenpeace UK, among others.

Where did the idea of Cake or Death come from?

It evolved over a number of years. It started when I applied for The Great British Bake Off. I got quite far through the audition process although I didn’t actually get onto the programme, which was a great disappointment. But I think it showed me that I had a passion for baking, and that I wanted to pursue it as a career. So, over the next year I experimented with baking and a few events and that got me to the point where I was ready to quit my day job.

How long has Cake or Death been in business?

We’ve been running for four-and-a-half-years now. We started as a wholesale cake business, but we had to pivot unfortunately at the start of the pandemic because most of our wholesale customers had to close their doors. We decided to send our brownies, which were our most popular product, through the post in letterbox-sized boxes and now thousands of people send them as gifts, mostly to family and friends.

What made you decide to enter the Small Business x Sage pop-up shop competition?

Two years ago, Cake or Death moved from its kitchen in London to sunny Devon, which was a personal move for myself and my family. We’ve set up a bakery in Exeter. The idea of having a presence in London for four days was really exciting. A lot of my customers are based in Londoners, and I knew I could get them to come and see us in the pop-up shop. It was really exciting to be in such a busy part of the city.

What’s your experience been of being in the pop-up shop?

I do think that footfall is really high in the street, but it’s been harder than I thought to get people to come in. People are not too sure about what the idea is. We’ve found the most successful thing to do is to give tasters in the street and point people towards the shop. People are quite reticent about walking into a shop when they don’t know what’s going on.

What would your advice be to anybody entering next year’s Sage pop-up shop competition?

You should go for it, but you need an easy retail-able product, and you need to feel that the shoppers on Oxford Street are your type of customer. You need to have put some thought into marketing and PR. We laid some groundwork by doing some PR work and a radio interview ahead of time, and we reached out to Instagram influencers to come and see us on the first day. We’ve also been priming our customers for a week to come and see us. Doing that groundwork is really important.

More on the Sage pop-up shop competition

Sage pop-up shop winner #1 – Deborah Maclaren, LoveReading – Deborah Maclaren, managing director of LoveReading, sits down with SmallBusiness to talk about what winning one of the three coveted spots in the Sage pop-up shop competition means to her

Sage pop-up shop winner #3 – Katie Hanton-Parr, Baboodle – Katie Hanton-Parr, founder of Baboodle, tells Small Business what winning the Sage pop-up shop competition has meant for her online baby equipment subscription business

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