Dear Aoife,

It took more than a hundred bakers to pull off the biggest bake sale in history. They made 14,534 cakes, sold out their supply in eight hours, and made it into the Guinness World Records.

No matter how big or how small, a successful bake sale can be more than just baking and selling treats. Still, just thinking about bake sales makes me hungry for catnip cupcakes with fish-flavored frosting.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.05.13 AMWe might just have different tastes, though. Actually, my friend Marie Mayes said this is one important factor to think about when you are getting ready for a bake sale. You’ve got to know your customer.

Mayes is a professor of business at Washington State University. She helps people with brilliant inventions and business ideas find their way to sweet success. Before buying all your materials and setting up shop, Mayes has a few pieces of advice. It involves one my favorite things: research.

“Think about those customers,” Mayes said. “Where are they going? Where have they just been? Are they hungry? What time of the day is it? Are they on their way somewhere?”

If your customers are out and about, they might want a baked good that’s packaged or doesn’t leave crumbs behind. But if they are in a place where they can sit and enjoy their treat for a few minutes, you might consider more possibilities like big pieces of cake or sticky cinnamon rolls.

Once you’ve answered a few questions about your customers and what they like, you will be ready to create your first product, or prototype. You’ll probably want to sample it, too.

“You can ask yourself what you like about it and what you might want to change,” Mayes said.

This is part of a technique some engineers actually use when they are making something. A person or a team will design their project, build it, or in your case bake it, change it a few times, and adjust different parts until it’s ready to go. They aren’t afraid of failure because they know it will help them get it just right.

Bringing together a team of people with lots of different skills is another important part of having a successful bake sale, Mayes explained.

“Maybe you have a friend who is great at math and can handle the money,” she said. “Or maybe someone’s parent makes a really good chocolate chip cookie.”

Perhaps you have a friend who is an artist and can make eye-catching signs. A good bake sale team can help bring in a lot of dough, too. You could donate to charity or use your profits to power your next big idea.

Here’s one more thing to help you with your bake sale. My friends at WSU Food Sen$e have recipes for everything from apple pie and bars to soft pretzels and sugar cookies. You can search for recipes here.

Dr. Universe