Don Williams, CEO of brand and design consultancy Pi Global discusses the influence of the boutique on the mainstream
There are many ways to make money. Two of the most popular are: a) making things in large volumes, which appeal to a lot of people, and selling them cheap; and b) making things in small numbers, which appeal to a few people, and selling them at a premium.
Ideally you’d sell huge volumes of things to lots of people at a huge premium but there aren’t many Bill Gates around. Some companies have taken concepts from the former to the latter.
Starbucks spawned a legion of me-too coffee shops, when it took a local and inclusive idea and turned it into a global phenomenon. The problem it almost inevitably encountered is that when you have an idea based on providing something to consumers which makes them feel special, part of an exclusive club, and then turn it into something for everyone, the ’specialness’ pretty much vanishes.
Look at American Express; at one time Gold Card was the pinnacle of the ’I’ve made it’ syndrome. When everyone and his dog got one of those, the Platinum card became the bling of choice. Nowadays it’s the titanium Centurion Card (the black one) so what next?
The ’boutique’ concept is tried and tested, so seeing more ’boutique everything’ popping up is to be expected: boutique burger restaurants such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen; boutique pie chains, such as Pieminister; and, naturally, boutique bakeries. Of course, just like there were always little local cafés up and down the land, there have always been small local bakeries, though since the 1950s, these have declined from over 18,000 to around 3,500.
So what makes a ’boutique bakery’ boutique? Well let’s start with the obvious: their products are almost exclusively more expensive and they need to be. The personalities they create for themselves don’t come cheap. They need their USPs, their differentiators, their identities and their décor. They need the lifeblood that is PR and all this feeds into the thing that provides their real value their brand.
They will always talk about their bakers, their products, what makes them special, what their products are made from, their provenance and their baking credentials, usually utilising traditional, time-honoured techniques. But what they all have in common is that they are striving to put oceans of clear water between them and mass-manufacturer baked goods.
Clearly this kind of ’upmarket’ bakery will thrive in areas where there is an eager and appropriately well-heeled audience, with people who aspire to the finer things in life and who would rather be seen dead than with a loaf of ’Mother’s Mill’ in the shopping basket.
So seeing them springing up in and around London in places such as Notting Hill, St John’s Wood and Greenwich, isn’t at all surprising, although seeing one open its doors in Moss Side might raise an eyebrow or two!
You cannot dispute the quality of the products in outlets like these, but their real value is not in supplying the liberal elite of Hampstead, it’s in helping to inspire and raise the quality of the mainstream products in our high street supermarkets, in the same way as an exclusive fashion industry influences what hangs on the rails in Topshop.