Natalie Slevin of Sugar Bakeshop on how she defined her target market, learned to trust her instincts, and more!
Describe your business in a few words?
Sugar Bakeshop is an American classic bakery.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so I think it was always on my radar that I would eventually start my own business. I was 24 years old when I started developing Sugar Bakeshop. I was at a point in my life where I was as ready as I was ever going to be to shift from dreaming about having a bakery to creating one.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I was fairly young when I began, so I didn’t have much life or work experience that was targeted directly to owning a bakery. During and after college, I worked in commercial kitchens to gather as much knowledge as I could around the food industry. Growing up, though, my parents threw large, involved dinner parties and watching hospitality through their example made me fall in love with it while also convincing me that it was something I wanted to do professionally.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur! It truly runs through the veins of my family, so it never felt out of reach. I wasn’t sure what kind of business I would own, but the drive and desire to have my own place has always been within me.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I started Sugar Bakeshop at one of Denver’s busiest farmers markets. I would spend the whole day before baking well into the night and then my girlfriends and I would throw on aprons and sling cupcakes, menus, and stickers. I was on a complete shoestring budget, so directly speaking with customers was my best shot at getting the word out. Through that process I was able to meet other restaurant owners and caterers which helped me to develop my wholesale business. The farmers market helped me to recognize my target market and grow very organically in that direction.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I have always said that my whole journey with Sugar Bakeshop has been me paying a steady tuition towards the school of hard knocks. It has been an amazing roller coaster of ups and downs and there has been massive value in all of it. I consistently undercharged for my services for years. A few years into owning Sugar, a huge national brand was coming to Denver to throw a party for a new product they were launching. I took the dessert catering order excitedly. It took my team of 7 and myself to complete it over the course of a week. We worked around the clock to get it all done, and when it was all said and done, I realized I had lost money on the whole deal. It was totally disappointing, but also a major lesson learned!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I truly am the most proud of who I have become.
As a result of this business. I have learned how to value my work, trust my instincts, manage an amazing team of people, and still let myself grow and shift in the process. Owning this business has allowed a lot of becoming and I am so thankful for that.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Whenever I hire any new team member, I am most looking for willingness. Most skills can be taught, but when someone comes my way with excitement and eagerness to learn, then I invite them to join the team.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Prior to Covid, I was actually working with a real estate broker to find a warehouse for Sugar to move to. I had 3 different departments: weddings, retail, and wholesale and I was looking to amp us up big time. I couldn’t find a single location that felt right, and I am so thankful for that. I went from a staff of 16 to 5. We went from being open 7 days a week to 4. And we shrunk our menu to the things that I find most inspiring and exciting. Our revenues dropped by about 60% when Covid first began, but we have been able to pivot to a place that is so genuinely Sugar Bakeshop and I have never felt so fulfilled by the business as I do now.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
This last year has taught me to focus on myself and my desires for owning a business more than ever. I have an awesome team that runs the retail section so that I can focus on my next steps. I personally see a cookbook in my future as well as the possibility of branching Sugar into a new direction with classes and tutorials.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
2020 taught me that I am in control of far less than I think. The quicker I learn to pivot from a place of calm and confidence, the quicker I find success and peace in my day to day.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I would have known that beating myself up for making mistakes doesn’t do any good. Owning a business is a continual series of facing peaks and valleys. There is value in it all, and the quicker I have chosen to learn from the mistake and move on, the more I am able to move forward with the next goal completely.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I honestly feel like this was one of the easiest years I have had to stay grounded. The forced pause really allowed me to meet myself for the first time in a long time. I had been going nonstop for 10 years and the shutdowns from Covid gave me time to reflect, look at cookbooks, exercise, write, and dream in a way that I hadn’t allowed myself since I started.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I absolutely believe in a work/life balance, although this took me a long time to figure out (and honestly I’m still learning!). Plan dinners with friends, rest when you are weary, and remember that inspiration often comes from stepping away from work.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t keep any sugar in my house! I absolutely love a good cookie and will always pause for a piece of cake, but when I am home, I eat a very clean vegetarian diet.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Start your day with a big glass of water and love your body to get the good vibes flowing!
- Pause during the day when you need to for deep breathing. Oxygenating your cells and clearing your mind is a powerful practice
- Create a gratitude list and when you’re feeling overwhelmed, write down a couple of things you’re thankful for to help you refocus and elevate your thinking.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It is an absolute honor to be an Entreprenista. I believe as women, we have an incredible set of skills that the world really needs right now. Being an Entreprenista means centering in with myself and my goals, following my gut, and knowing that I am capable of everything that I truly want.