A simple country baker
Published:  19 May, 2006

Almost every day, we older folk say, “How the world has changed!” As an example, just look at the volume of products we now produce daily with far less staff than, say, 20 years ago. Although, at the rate people are flooding into our country, they may soon pass a law to make us scrap our machinery, so that we can employ more people to keep them off the streets.

What brought this trip down memory lane was a headline in my paper today, which read: “Men must have proof of consent or risk rape charges”. Well that could never have happened in the 1950s. Back then, we poor boys used to beg, plead, grovel, promise undying love, marriage or the immortal original line “If you really love me, you would”, or even meet the fairer sex outside the cinema and pay for their ticket, rather than meeting

them inside, which avoided paying for their ticket. This being a truthful column, I must confess success was as rare as a politician telling the truth.

However, back to trade. Our business year starts in February and shop trade has not been good; we are 3.93% up at the end of March on a like-for-like basis and are struggling to hold it at that. One can always say it is the fault of bad weather, but I have found it all too easy to look for excuses rather than have a review on our current products and make sure they are up to standard, as well as see if the shops could be improved.

The great problem we have is that, as we are used to seeing the shops every day, it is all too easy to get used to any failings there might be; perhaps the old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ should read ‘familiarity breeds acceptance’.

Another problem that crops up every week is the problem of waste; ours averages around 12% at retail price and if we try to get it much lower, the result is lower sales as the shops look too empty in the afternoons. Although the majority of shops can keep wastage at about 10%, there are always one or two that have bad days and throw the average up.

Once I was asked: “Why do you print your figures so openly?” Well the answer is easy: we are all in business and, if you are doing much better than I am, you can feel good about it; if you are doing as badly or worse, it should cheer you up a little and make you realise you are not alone. I have always found it of enormous help when fellow bakers are open with me. It helps me to identify both my strong and weak points.

Have you not noticed how many of the know-it-alls have gone out of business – a little like the ones who open up a business, take about £200,000 in their first year, and then tell us how they intend to take £2m the next year and £5m the third year. Gosh, I wish I were as clever! I struggle every year to survive and think a 10% increase is great.

These folk are walkers and talkers, not achievers. They seem to think saying it makes it come true. So I will leave you with three quotations of famous last words of these dreamers: “This’ll be a short meeting”; “When it reads empty, there’s always a gallon or two in the tank”; “Believe me, no-one will dress up”.




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