Passion for Cakes Ignites Sweet Inspirations

She comes across as shy and girlish, with a slight almost delicate built and of medium height. But after engaging her in a conversation, her small external frame belies her inner strength and resolve. Somewhat reserved, with a quick sharp mind and a no nonsense attitude but still approachable. She laughs easily and shoots straight to the point and you get the feeling she does not like people who waste her time. Her girlish and polite demeanor notwithstanding, Beatrice Kagondu is a seasoned business woman who has cut her teeth in the cake baking industry and risen to be among the best.

Married with three children aged nine, seven and four, Beatrice and her husband are both in business. After giving birth to her second child with her first only 18 months, Beatrice felt she could not do a regular job any more; her young family was going to suffer. She needed a more flexible work schedule. She quit her job with an NGO and with her SACCO savings took out a loan to start her cake baking business with her newborn in tow.

Beatrice is a fully qualified chef after undergoing vigorous training at the Norfolk Hotel under Chef Eamon Mullan in 1996. Although trained in all kinds of cuisines, her specialty was in pastry. She later on went on to do cake baking & decoration. Sweet Inspirations started after she took over a business from a friend who was relocating to the States in 2006. Although the business was already established her friend’s clients did not follow so she had to build up her own clientele from scratch.

Sweet Inspirations has four sections: Cake Baking & Decorating, Training, Chocolate Favors and Sugar Craft Supplies. Beatrice believes in a relational engagement with clients. “It would be very wrong if I just ask you what you want written on a cake. I need to know who the end user is, their preferences-flavor, colour and even shape,” she says. She believes what sets her apart from her competitors is the fact that she gives a quality product and service and that’s why over 70% of her business comes from referrals. She is proud to have been called upon to bake the 200-kilo South Sudan Independence cake.

We talk about the training she offers to those that are interested in going into cake baking. This she does personally as quality is close to her heart. “I don’t believe in perfection because that is an obsession, but I do believe in excellence,” she says. Beatrice charges for training and also takes on girls who have an interest and potential but cannot afford to pay. After training she either absorbs them into the business or finds them placements in other bakeries.

She laments on the high cost of baking materials and outages in power supply as some of her biggest challenges in doing business. Currently there is only one shop in Nairobi that specializes in sugar craft supplies as most are imported. She has had to bring in most of her supplies from overseas.

Her biggest mistake she admits is not setting up systems from the beginning. She says, “I would have saved myself a lot of heartache had I done that. I have had to deal with theft by servants, police cases and gone through a lot of stress being there to mind the business.” Beatrice has put her training in business management from the Kenya Institute of Management to good use and invested in technology and special training in putting up systems.

Beatrice is also Vice Chair -Membership of the Organization for Women in International trade (OWIT) Nairobi chapter. This is an organization tasked with bringing together women in business and trade under various forums. They run workshops at least twice a year and an annual dinner that highlights opportunities for women and building of networks. She believes in women empowering other women, especially older ones in the role of mentors. She tells me, “Interact with those that you aspire to be, don’t limit yourself.” Her own personal growth has come through meeting and engaging with great and successful women the likes of Jennifer Barassa and Frida Owinga. She also underscores the importance of having a personal relationship with God and putting him first in everything.

Being vice-chair of OWIT, running the bakery, training and family means she has a heavy load. Asked how she balances all this she says “I have hired assistants in addition to the bakery staff to help manage the business. This gives me more time to engage in other activities because now the business can run without me being present. I have also set boundaries between work, personal and family time.” Beatrice has a lot of support from her husband and house help. She does not take business calls after five and surprisingly does not have an oven at home nor have a sweet tooth. On her personal time Beatrice likes to read biographies and inspirational books and to keep fit, she does zumba with her daughter.

On the future, Beatrice would like to see her business expand to other cities, with each section becoming separate entities of their own. She exhorts new entrepreneurs to be passionate about what they do, to get some training in the area they are interested in and to be concerned about quality and service and not just the money. “I love what I do and I always say that if I could get someone to sponsor me, I would bake and give away cakes for free,” she concludes. Read the magazine

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