A simple country baker

24 February, 2006
Comment
Page 19 

Tony Phillips is past president of the NAMB and is (allegedly) retired from running Janes Pantry with 10 shops in Gloucestershire

How often we are given so-called facts, which are often nothing more than guesses or wishful thinking. For example, some film star was quoted in the newspaper the other day. She said: “I was voted the sexiest woman in the world.” But by whom?
At my grammar school we would all have voted for Julie. In our lunch hour, at the bottom of the playing field, she initiated many of us in the delights of the flesh. I hasten to add that we only looked and never touched, but to us she was the sexiest girl in the world.I mention this because all you seem to read about at the moment is organic bread and healthy eating. Great – but the problem is we do not sell a lot of it. Although they sayporridge improves your sex life, lowers cholesterol and heals the skin, it does not improve sales. We thought we would give it a good try, so produced porridge-filled iced buns, porridge tarts and porridge doughnuts – sales were appalling!Our volume sales still come from the same lines we have been making for the past 20 years. This does not mean we ever give up on trying new products. Customers appear to like new lines in our shops – it is just that they are not over-keen on buying them.I often wonder why I am the only person in the trade not selling oodles and oodles of these terrific ‘in’ lines. Is it perhaps because they only sell in London and poor country folk, like us, are slow to catch on?On a different note, another subject that never fails to arouse debate is training. While I believe strongly in good training, I must confess I have never seen the value of ticking boxes on a form or taking exams that everyone passes.A member of my staff has been lucky to gain a place for a week of training at Simmonds of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, sponsored by the British Confectioners’ Association. Now that is really something. Lucy is thrilled to bits to have such a great opportunity, as are we all at Janes Pantry. My manager Neville has visited Simmonds and discussed what the training will involve with its MD Ian Matthews. The result is great enthusiasm and a wonderful opportunity for Lucy to enhance her skills.This to me is what training is all about – not the government-sponsored training that costs a great deal of our money and achieves so little. Should you doubt this, think of all the money lavished on training with so little result. If it were really working, we would be awash with highly skilled bakers.State-run training is usually just a job creation scheme for the people operating it. There’s very little practical advantage to either the recipient or the company supplying the trainee.This sort of comment never fails to arouse the wrath of those providing the training. I really don’t know why, because my question is always the same: if it is so great, why do so very few use the services provided?We find one-to-one training works very well for us and, when we have the opportunity, we send staff on practical courses. Companies like Thomas Adams of Northampton have the right ideas on training and are large enough to tailor-make schemes to give them exactly what they want. Unfortunately, we are too small for that. n



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