In my world - the craft baker

11 September, 2009
Page 34 

Tom Herbert is a fifth-generation baker and director of Hobbs House Bakery, a multi-award-winning craft bakery, based in Gloucestershire

I've been thinking about how to get even more customers. I'm not a fan of advertising in the conventional way how many Chelsea buns would I have to sell to cover the cost? So, feeding the word-of-mouth, promotion notion, I need to cultivate an atmosphere and bakery offering conducive to encouraging great word-of-mouth.

And what has got me stoked is thinking about my customers in a fresh way, and goading them into one of four categories. The first horde is 'strangers' people who are in the shop for the first time and don't know anything about us. Then there are 'acquaintances' people we recognise, who know what they want and expect from us. 'Friends' are a group of regulars we know well and 'fans' are the special people who love what we do and are responsible for a heck of a lot of great word-of-mouth.

And we've divvied them all up to see what we're dealing with. This was very simple, only took a week and was totally worth it, because it not only highlighted just how many strangers we've been serving but, crucially, it is the first small step towards a more intentional interaction with customers.

I've been aware of the difference in serving styles in my shops and, because I have allowed it, they vary wildly. Some people serve incredibly well and, of course, it's possible to sell badly. But often, serving means standing in a display of products and notices, waiting to respond to the customer in a reactive way. This is fine with regulars, but can seem stand-offish to strangers and, worse, makes our wide range of products seem daunting. So we have a plan to help us recognise strangers and, using initiatives, incentives and impassioned training, we aim to entice more people to be our fans. First, we are looking at what we are saying and conveying on the outside, working our way towards the intentions of every interaction with a customer.

This fresh approach has given me a clarity to prioritise activities and, so far, has resulted in funky new loyalty cards, a shiny paint job on the shop fronts, the aforementioned impassioned product training and using fresh baked smells to sell. It has lent a rejuvenated vigour to sampling surely the easiest, sure-fire way to shine a light on a product and sell it.

To this end, we have also trialled a host of new sampling platforms, with a pink bird-table grabbing the most attention from passers-by, open to a quick peck of some tasty baked morsel. Simply asking "Madam/Sir, can I tempt you to a soldier?" works a treat if asked with a twinkle in the eye.

We'll beaver the autumn away, and if the shocking pink bird-table works well to engage strangers, then by Christmas, my wish to Father Christmas is that they'll be fans.





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