A Piece of Cake: Kim Nelson of Daisy Cakes Swims with the Sharks

Kim Nelson, a native of Pauline, South Carolina, grew up eating the delicious cakes made by her grandmothers and her great-aunt Daisy, and today she is sharing cakes using those same recipes with people all over the country through her mail-order business, Daisy Cakes.

In addition to a featured cake of the month (November is pumpkin pound cake), there are six classic cakes available year-round: carrot, red velvet, chocolate, coconut, lemon, and "Jilly Vanilly," and a sampler with four varieties. The cakes are shipped on dry ice in an attractive tin.

Kim says she always knew she wanted her business to be a mail-order business. Originally she had packaged cake mixes and tried selling those, but the feedback she got was that people wanted someone to bake the cakes for them. So, she says, "I could do that. I had a kitchen with ovens in it that my dad had built for my catering business, so I started baking the cakes there."

She and her mom traveled across the south to Junior League conventions, setting up a booth and letting people taste the cakes, and she began to have moderate success starting in 2009. But then, in 2011, that moderate business got noticed in a big way when she appeared on the ABC show "Shark Tank."

Four of the investors passed on her concept, but Barbara Corcoran, the sole female on the panel, saw a passion in Kim that she thought would pay off. So she invested $50,000 with the stipulation that Kim mail her a dollar for every cake that she sells. But it's not just money that she received from Ms. Corcoran: Kim says, "When Barbara gives me advice, I do what she tells me, because she knows what she's doing, and it works."

Even the producers of "Shark Tank" couldn't quite predict how much of a sales spike the company would receive after the initial airing--but the 2,000 orders they received in the first weekend crashed the web site, and there were many phone calls that went unanswered. To deal with that huge spike, the company turned to a series of commercial bakeries--first in Georgia, then in Tennessee, and one in the Bronx in New York.

But none of those were a good fit, and Kim realized that letting go of the control of her product wasn't working--so she brought the whole operation back to Pauline. "No matter how much someone is charging you, they're not going to bake my cakes the way I want them to be baked," she says. 'Bigger isn't better--in our case, anyway. I would rather sell fewer cakes and have perfectly satisfied customers. Cake is a happy thing, and you want them to be happy."

There have been reruns of the original "Shark Tank" episode, follow-ups (one coming up on November 15th), and additional national media attention--a spot on the "Today" show, a feature on ABC News, and her cakes offered as prizes on "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right"--but eventually, she knows the "Shark Tank" effect will wear off.

Right now, in a typical week, Kim says Daisy Cakes ships about 200 cakes a week, and that number will swell to 500-600 cakes a week during the holiday season, which, for her, has just started. The Cake of the Month, which was started as part of the contract with "The Price Is Right," helps to bring repeat customers and drives web traffic.

A Daisy Cakes cookbook is in the works--25 cake recipes, along with some pies and cookies--called Share a Slice of Love. The book will be out in February, and she will debut it at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

In addition to the cookbook, Kim also plans to introduce more products to expand the business. Starting November 18th, there will be pies as well as cakes available on the web site, and after the cookbook is released, she will focus on arranging production and distribution of her chocolate and caramel sauces. The recipes for the sauces are finalized, and she already has the jars and labels ready to go.

Also in the works: cake ice cream, which will not only have chunks of Daisy Cake in it, but swirls of her signature cream cheese frosting. Because the only thing better than cake is cake and ice cream.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.