Taking the Cake: Marketing Manager Carolyn Lai
Carolyn Lai, 25, works as the marketing manager of a cake company, but it isn’t any ordinary cake company. Satura Cakes makes cakes Japanese style. That means that instead of having the overly sweet taste of mass-produced American cakes, Japanese-style Satura cakes boast the tremendous flavors of ingredients other than sugar. High-quality fruits, nuts, chocolate, and other ingredients are the highlights when it comes to taste, while sugar takes a supporting role. Carolyn’s role in the company, which has two stores in California’s Silicon Valley and two in Hawaii, is to manage all marketing projects, including branding, store promotions, advertising, and merchandising. The first store opened in January 2006 and was an instant success. The company has received plentiful interest from venture capitalists, and it plans to open about 50 stores across the United States over the next five years. To learn more about Carolyn Lai and how she found her own delectable slice of sweet success in the world of Japanese-style cakes, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
San Francisco, CA
University of California at Berkeley
BA in Mass Communications, Minor in Business Administration
2005 – 2006
Pacific Union GMAC
2004 – 2005
About the company
Satura Cakes specializes in unique European desserts such as German Baum Kuchens, Italian Tiramisus and Panna Cottas, French Mont Blancs, etc., using special Japanese baking styles and ingredients. A team of professionally trained pastry chefs prepare desserts on a daily basis using the best ingredients available: Himalayan rock salt, Japanese chestnut paste, local gourmet honey, etc.. Satura Cakes also specializes in gourmet hand-pressed espressos and coffee, unique dessert bars and catering, as well as top of line wedding cakes.
Satura Cakes was founded by Hironobu Tamaki of Japan. While working in Silicon Valley for many years and adjusting to the American lifestyle, he realized that Americans were missing out on the type of high quality desserts that was prevalent in Japan. He realized that desserts in America were commonly mass produced and overly sweet – something about it was not satisfactory. After his company, Golfer’s Digest Online Japan went public in 2004, Tamaki, as the company’s top investor, partnered with a famous bakery in Tokyo, the Anniversary Bakery, to reintroduce desserts in a more appreciative and delectable light to Americans.
The company’s idea spawned a lot of interest with Silicon Valley VC’s. With the funding, the company plans on opening about 50 stores across the nation in the next five years. The company, however, plans to maintain a local production site by having one production site (kitchen) for 3-5 nearby retail sites. Satura Cakes currently has two stores in CA Silicon Valley: Los Altos, CA and Palo Alto, CA, and two stores in Honolulu, HI. A third Honolulu store is opening in Waikiki in July 2007 and a third CA store is opening in Campbell, CA early 2008.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
As the marketing manager, I oversee all marketing efforts at both the corporate level as well as the retail level. Corporate marketing projects include periodic press releases about company funding, expansion plans, new products and ideas to both English and Japanese media entering new markets as well as company branding and creating consistency on all fronts when expanding. I have recently started working on building the company’s merchandise department, with creative ideas on new retail items, designing retail space and developing a replenishment system. Retail and local marketing projects include local store promotions, holiday planning, advertising, customer and local community relations, as well as local market product planning.
Most notable company milestones
Satura’s flagship store in Los Altos, CA (which opened January 2006) exceeded all expectations in sales and popularity. After only months of opening, Satura Cakes was offered a significant amount of money from JAFCO, Co., Ltd, a private equity company based in Japan with a branch in Silicon Valley. With this investment, Satura Cakes quickly opened a second store in Palo Alto, CA only seven months later (July 2006). The build-out and openings of the Hawaii stores followed very shortly.
What’s the niche?
Satura Cakes offers and educates our customers about spectacular unique European desserts. We “reinvent” them in a Japanese baking sense in such a way that is more satisfying by focusing on other ingredients that bring tremendous flavors other than sugar. We pride ourselves in being one of the first to introduce these desserts to the American market.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Just like sushi, lattes, a plethora of ethnic-based foods, have been difficult to introduce to a mass market of Americans, Satura Cakes has been associated very much with Japanese desserts. People tend to think of weird sweets like red bean, mochi balls and jellies when they hear Japanese sweets. The challenge is to convince and educate the common American to enjoy their desserts in a much healthier, enjoyable, knowledgeable way.
As Starbucks may have reinvented the way Americans drank coffee (introducing espresso, lattes, machiatos, cappuccinos as a alternative to drip coffee) and Japanese food experts have introduced sushi as a common American favorite, Satura hopes to be the leader of a new way to enjoy desserts.
What’s in store for the future for Satura?
As a past-faced growing company, Satura Cakes plans to expand into different metropolitan markets across the nation and perhaps even into Japan. Satura Cakes has major plans to go public in the next few years.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
In any given industry, to be creative and provide something that people in your target market cannot find anywhere else. In our instance – unique, gourmet cakes, made from the finest ingredients at very reasonable prices. Sure, a slice of cake at $4.95 has its premium compared to a cake from Safeway, but we see it as an introduction to luxury desserts without the many dollar signs.
The important thing is the education to our customers and employees about our products. Without that knowledge of the background, the design and baking efforts of a particular dessert, it serves as nothing special.
Guiding principle in life
I always imagine myself 10 years older from my current state and think, “if i look back at my life now, what will i regret not doing?” I’ll then zero in on a few things and actually do them.
Yardstick of success
A lot of people equate success with a monetary yardstick. I say success is simply putting your mind into pursuing something, whatever it may be, setting goals, and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. There’s nothing more fulfilling than crossing that major goal off of your life’s “to-do” list.
Success is following through.
Goal yet to be achieved
My personal goals: getting an MBA, living outside of the Bay Area (I have traveled a lot but have always resided in the greater Bay Area), living in a different country, starting a non-profit organization, supporting my parents (immigrant parents who live their lives to better mine).
What motivated you to work at Satura?
It was an opportunity to work from the ground up for a start-up that is working to become a corporation. The idea of opening pastry shop/espresso cafe expressed thoughts of happinesses, luxury, relaxation, fun, desserts … much more appealing to me at the time than my last job– performing internal audit and compliance work for a financial institute.
Like best about what you do?
It is nice to see customers smile when they enter our stores, to see our professional chefs nod in approval at their latest products, and to see and hear great compliments of our work.
Like least about what you do?
Being a part of a small company has problems such as a lack of structure, chaotic at times, organizational issues.
This also means wearing numerous “hats” at the job and being able to be flexible and work on various projects that may not be related to your position.
I also find myself “spread too thin” – working on projects ranging from advertising, PR, merchandising, forecasting, promotions, updating the website, graphic design, photography… to making lattes, serving cake slices and occasionally going on delivery runs.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
She-Ra, a doctor or a lifeguard. I guess at that age, my passion was to save lives!
What was your first job?
A teller at Wells Fargo Bank.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Trying new restaurants and bars, enjoying the outdoors, concerts.
Person most interested in meeting?
The 14th Dalai Lama – for his dedication to peace, compassion, goodness and religion.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google – for their passion and innovations to advance human intellect and to satisfy their curiosity. Especially so for the way they have reinvented a whole new work environment that actually works.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I am a certified SCUBA diver. I am fascinated by the fact that there is a complete foreign world on our very own planet – underwater!
- I traveled to South East Asia, visiting seven different countries in three months with one backpack.
- I went to the same high school as Tom Hanks.
Three characteristics that describe you
- Hilarious (at least my friends think so!)
Three greatest passions
- Travel (especially South East Asia)
- Seeing good in people
- Discovering and trying new foods
“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
Cancer Research, AIDS Foundation
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Oprah Winfrey! Daily Candy!
Interview by Sumaya Kazi
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez