Is mine a CRAFTY BUSINESS? What constitutes 'a craftsman' in the baking industry, asks Tony Phillips, who ends up deciding that he might just be one himself
Published:  22 June, 2007

The words 'The Craft' is used so often in our trade that, as a simple businessman, I will confess I do not really know what it means.

Does it simply mean that those who make their product by hand are craftsmen? If so, why are BAKO and other suppliers selling so many frozen products and premixes to these small bakers?

Machinery manufacturers keep making equipment that produces bread, rolls and morning goods, as well as depositors flow wrappers and so on. Presumably, someone else besides me must buy these machines and then use them, so does that eliminate all those using machines?

Once, I was asked by the managing director of Debenhams, at a lunch where I was unusually quiet, what my views were on business. Well all the others at the table sounded very intelligent, so I said. "My views are simple. I buy it as cheap as I can, sell it as dear as I can, and try to keep as much of the bit left in the middle as possible."

basic principles

When becoming involved in bakery by accident many years ago, my basic principles never changed, except that I now try to make it as well as I can, as cheaply as I can, sell as much as possible and hope the bit in the middle enables me to live in the manner to which I have become accustomed and believe I deserve. Given the choice of being a superb craftsman and making just £10,000 a year instead, there would be no contest for me.

There appears great conceit in saying, "I am a craftsman", and implying the public owes me a living for that fact.

During my very early days in the trade, I would attend meetings and listen to the old boys talking about the craft and I would then go and look in their windows and, quite often, I, as a non-craftsman, was throwing away better pro- ducts than they were selling.

north-west quality

While not wishing to offend fine bakers in other regions, I must confess that whenever I visit the north-west, I am amazed at the high quality of their products and the intense competition there. One has only to think of Albert Waterfield and his sons, David Smart of Greenhalgh's, John Slattery or Martin Weinholt, to mention a few, and there are so many others.

pride in their work

The question is, are they craftsmen or businessmen? Probably both is the answer: craftsmen, in that the word means producing high-quality goods, and most certainly top-class businessmen. These are people who take a pride in producing high-quality goods profitably.

Eureka! I am now a craftsman, as I try to produce quality goods at a profit. Being allowed to write for British Baker all these years has enabled me to meet so many top-class bakers that I have now turned myself into a craftsman and have answered my own question. At last, I shall be able to stop being in awe of these people and, the next time I meet Albert Waterfield, I shall say, "Now tell me, Albert, as one craftsman to another..." n

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