A Success Story:
Some people are fortunate to find their calling early in life and that is certainly true of Michael Temm, owner of Wedding Wonderland Cake Shop in Florissant, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. “I knew I wanted to be in this business – and this is really corny, but it’s true – from the age of six when Santa Claus brought me an Easy Bake Oven. And I’m the youngest of six boys. They were all outside playing football and baseball and I’d be inside baking cakes. That was kind of my passion. I knew I wanted to be a baker, a decorator.”
After finishing high school in 1984, Michael, who never enrolled in a single decorating or baking class, went to work for two years in a Pillsbury factory in St. Louis. There, he met a young woman whose parents owned Wedding Wonderland Cake Shop. As Michael puts it, “they needed help and saw my talent. I applied for the job and they hired me immediately.”
Nine years later, in 1995, the owners sold him the shop and financed the sale. Michael and his business partner took the store from $19,000 in sales to $72,000 in their first year of ownership. What was the key? Advertising and an unwillingness to turn away customers. “You never want to tell somebody that you can’t do something. We just took in as many orders as we could and we were here until 2 or 3am, sometimes we spent the night here just to get the orders done.”
The store has grown in physical size from 900 square feet back then to around 4000 square feet today. His sales continue to climb and Michael has added seven employees over the years, all of whom were friends that he trained from the bottom-up.
The shop is doing remarkably well. Two of his bakers, Al and Lia, are currently appearing on TLC’s “Next Great Baker.”
“It’s amazing what the national attention has already brought me as far as people wanting to know more about Wedding Wonderland and all the phone calls and where we’re located. It’s just awesome.”
Wedding Wonderland bakers Al and Lia
The road to success hasn’t been a totally smooth one, though. In 2010, he picked up 33 new accounts after a local wholesale wedding cake shop went out of business. It was a great opportunity, but a challenge to finance the rapid expansion. “I maxed out every credit card I had in order to buy walk-in coolers, mixers, capital to pay employees. I did what I had to do to get the business.” For three years, Michael tried paying back the debt but was getting nowhere. “It just killed me to pay all that interest,” he said.
He went to local banks to see if he could refinance the debt, but none would consider it. He was dumbfounded. “I have decent credit, why can’t I get a loan and in 2 to 3 years be debt-free?”
Then he decided to visit his own bank, First Community Credit Union, which knew about TILT Forward. “I sat down and they led me towards TILT Forward. The bank wasn’t comfortable loaning me money. They wanted collateral, but I thought that my business sales would be enough.”
Michael had never heard of non-profit lenders, but TILT Forward, which has no collateral requirements, has made all the difference for his business. “It’s been a godsend if I can say that. I have a set payment and in a year and a half, all my debt will be gone. I am so thankful for this program. I don’t know who started it or how long it’s been in business, but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m paying the loan back. And to know that next year I will be debt-free, it’s just phenomenal. I can’t say thank you enough for this program.”
Even the process of applying for the TILT Forward loan was simpler than creating one of his cakes. “I don’t remember anything as stressful or difficult more than what I went through with a traditional bank. The traditional banks wanted to know about every last dime spent and blah blah blah. It was a real hassle to even apply. I don’t remember anything being hard about getting this TILT Forward loan. And then once I once I was approved, I had the money directly deposited in my account within I think two or three days. It was amazing. It was just extremely easy.”
With the oldest of his five children, Tyler, now learning the ins and outs of the business, the future looks promising for Wedding Wonderland Cake Shop, although the industry is beginning to shift. “Reality TV has changed the face of cake decorating. People are now spending hundreds of dollars on birthday cakes and graduation cakes where five years ago, before these shows aired, I couldn’t get $50 for one. Just last year, eighteen new bakeries have opened up and so my marketing dollars have more than tripled just to keep up the same sales because there’s so much competition.”
The Wedding Wonderland staff. Job creation!
But Michael relies on his thirty plus years in the business, his passion, and his innovative baking techniques to set him apart. “It’s very scary, but I go to bed trying not to think about that or else I’ll never sleep. I just hope and pray that my work is good enough and my name is good enough that business keeps going well.” Michael used his intimate knowledge of flavors and the baking process to become the only fondant-free bakery in the nation. “I care so much about the taste of the cake that we get the fondant look with our traditional butter-cream icing and it’s half the price. People love it.”
As Michael looks to broaden the footprint of his shop, he finds comfort in knowing that TILT Forward will be there for him. “It’s wonderful to know that I can go back to the same program and get the funds that I need to keep growing my business. There’s a security around the whole thing in that I’ve already been told that I can borrow more money if I need to as long as I keep making my payments.”