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Baby-Cakes.com: Turning a Hobby into Gold 
When Charlotte Fowkes was fired from her job, she turned her hobby creating "diaper cakes" into an online business. Three years after Baby-Cakes.com was created, demand for her product has been so great that she recently opened a traditional retail store. Charlotte shows that ingenuity and creativity can lead to success in entrepreneurship. 

by Isabel M. Isidro
Managing Editor

Women today are faced with the difficult task of trying to balance their career with motherhood. Instead of staying at home to care for the kids, many mothers work at 8-to-5 jobs to help support their families and provide better future for their kids. But what does a mother do when her child is sick and hospitalized?.

Charlotte Fowkes was working as a computer programmer when her boss fired her for taking too much time off to care for her very sick child. Unfazed by the loss of her job, she turned it into an opportunity to commercialize a hobby that she had been engaged in for years: creating "baby cakes." These are not edible cakes; rather, a combination of diapers and baby products artfully arranged to look a cake. Friends have marveled at it for years, and she knew that it could be turned into a full-time business. In 1998, she started Baby-Cakes.com

After four years, her business has grown and expanded in a way that even she has never expected. She now sells both retail and wholesale online. In August 2001, she has crossed a new milestone for her business: she opened a retail store. She is all set to combining the dot-com world with the traditional brick-and-mortar.

Charlotte shows us that entrepreneurship is sometimes a matter of simply taking the opportunity and going for it. Learn how she developed her very creative craft and established relationships with suppliers. Know the low-cost marketing techniques that she uses to keep her cash registers ringing. Get some ideas on how she balances her home-based business with her family life. Be inspired with her story as you pursue your own entrepreneurial endeavors.

What exactly are "baby cakes?"

Baby cakes are gift packages made to look like layered cakes that you eat. But they are not edible! Rather, these "cakes" are completely made out of diapers. Inside, it contains blankets, undershirt, towels, bottles and toys -- things that you can take apart and use for the baby. What sets my product apart is that everything inside is practical.

Baby cakes are perfect as gifts, and can be the centerpiece of the shower. I have a lot of corporate clients who order them as gifts to their customers or employees.

When I first saw your site, I asked, "How can she ship out cakes?"

Exactly. I have a lot of people in a day call me or email me thinking that these are regular cakes because they look like it. They ask me, "How could I possibly mail them?" It's a normal question that I get everyday.

Where did you get this idea of packaging things to make them look like a cake?

When my 9 year old was born in 1992, I received a similar gift called diaper cake. It was real small, made of a layer of diapers, but it wasn't practical. Lace and stuff had been glued on the diaper to make it look cute; but it wasn't usable.

I decided to create my own version of it to be given to my friends as gifts. My friends would tell me, "Oh, can you make me one for this friend;" and, "Oh, you should sell these. These are the neatest things I have ever seen." The difference with my creation is its practicality: no matter how big it gets, they can still use the diapers. I didn't begin to sell them until 1998.

Your product sounds labor-intensive. Describe your process in creating baby cakes.

When I talked to other online entrepreneurs who just pop their things into the box and ship them off, I realized how much work I have to go through for my products. It's not too bad, but I build it from scratch. I have to band the diapers with rubber bands, pin them together and pick the toys that are color coordinated with the diaper's design.

The diapers are not ruined in any way. You can still use them. I wrap the "cake" with towels and blankets, which could be taken apart and used for the baby. Inside are rattles, socks and shoes, squeeky toys, and other practical stuff that parents could use no matter how many babies they have.

The tallest is 22 inches tall. It consists of 55 diapers, and contains about 25 to 30 items depending on the theme. The smallest one is "baby cupcake" with 4 diapers and 4 or 5 items in it.

I then wrap the finished cake, put a hand-made gift card with a handwritten note. I put an ingredient card on each one, which looks like a recipe. Just little personal touches that I always like to put.

To completely put one together probably takes about 20 minutes. I'm pretty quick now actually, whereas before it used to take me an hour to create one. Now I know how to get it perfect faster.

Have you always been crafty?

It's funny because I never considered myself the least bit creative or crafty. But I sew my own blankets because I want certain colors to look right with the things I have. If I can't find them commercially, I buy the fabrics and sew some of the stuff myself.

What made you decide to go commercial?

Everything happened all at once. It was 1998, and I was then pregnant with my 3rd child. For a time I have been thinking of doing something at home.

The big push came when I was fired from my job as a computer programmer. My oldest daughter, Kirstie, was hospitalized when her appendix burst, and my employer fired me because obviously I was missing too much work. We almost lost her; and she was only 5. She had too big an appendix for her little body.