How Buttercream grew from hobby to thriving business


Alefiah and Rohit Tolani are no strangers to running a successful small business. But even they couldn't predict how quickly Alefiah's sweet lockdown hobby would grow into a full-time enterprise.

When COVID restrictions and lockdowns hit New Zealand in 2020, Alefiah and Rohit Tolani’s Little Kickers franchise business couldn’t operate. Alefiah grew bored, stuck at home without the usual juggle of business to occupy her. “There was really not much for me to do and baking was always a hobby,” says Alefiah. “I’ve always done a lot of baking because my oldest son has allergies… and I never wanted him to miss out.”

Coming from an artistic upbringing where she was encouraged to be creative, Alefiah worked hard to perfect her baking craft. “It just came naturally to me as a creative outlet.”

On Mother’s Day in lockdown, Alefiah decided to treat herself to some homemade cupcakes. She shared an image of her baked goods to Facebook and was surprised when many friends asked if they could buy a batch of their own.

“I thought, oh, you really want to buy from me… okay,” laughs Alefiah. “I ended up selling fourteen baskets of cupcakes on the day. It just went crazy.”

A rising business

Alefiah then advertised her cakes on Facebook Marketplace, which resulted in a trickle of orders straight away. “My skills weren’t all that great, but it was something to start with,” she says. It was never something that I looked at as a business and never thought it would become a business… but I thought, let’s just see what happens…”

Fast forward through a few baking classes and some clever Facebook marketing to a targeted audience, and Alefiah admits her baking hobby has “literally taken over [her] life.” By backing herself and being prepared to ‘just see what happens’, Buttercream NZ now employs two additional full-time staff and recently leased a commercial kitchen.

When it came time to expand in this way, Alefiah and Rohit knew exactly where to turn. Years earlier when Rohit was searching for funding for another business the couple owns, Little Kickers, he found Propsa. Prospa provided him with a small business loan within hours of approval. Their willingness to listen and tailor financing to exactly what Little Kickers needed made them a trusted partner “who has their back”, says Rohit. So, it was an easy process to bring Buttercream into the fold.

“It doesn’t feel so pressured to ask for a loan [from Prospa].If I had to go to a bank, I know how stressful that can be,” Alefiah says. “We just found it much smoother… I knew it was reliable and I know I’ll get what I want.”

Smoothing out the edges

In general, the enterprising couple use Prospa to smooth out any cash flow issues, knowing their loans can be quickly turned around. “We know that when we talk to Prospa, within a couple of hours the money will be in our bank,” notes Alefiah.

“These days, with everything so uncertain, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow… It’s just good to have the security that if we do need it, we can get a loan to keep us stable and floating…”

This has assisted Alefiah and Rohit to grow Buttercream quickly during the ebbs and flows of COVID. The other big support has come from their regular customers who have stood by their business throughout the uncertainty.

This was especially true when inflation hit and many of Alefiah’s ingredient costs more than doubled. “My motto is that I don’t want to compromise on the quality of my products,” Alefiah says firmly. “I’ve been very lucky with my customers who have been more than happy to pay the difference, if there is any, in costs.”

Getting the right mix

Pricing her premium products has been an area Alefiah has carefully focused on. She has costed her products down to the tiniest ingredient, something she found time-consuming but worthwhile. It has enabled her to find the sweet spot between what each product costs her to make and the price customers are happy to pay.

“Not too much, but it shouldn’t be under-valued either… I don’t do discounts,” she says firmly. “I don’t undermine myself and I feel like my time and my effort should be validated at the end of the day.”

It’s firm boundaries like this that underpin why Buttercream is such a big hit. Alefiah approaches every part of the business process with the same mix of resolve and confidence.

“Two years ago if you had asked me [what my ultimate dream for my business is], I would have said, ‘oh, I’m just happy to be at home doing one or two cakes a week’, but over time I’ve realised that’s not who I am.

“I need people to understand what my business is about and at the end of the day a business is to make people happy, and we try our best to do that.”

Need flexible access to funds that could help your business grow? Speak with one of our small business lending specialists.

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