Well, what a year 2008 has been. Shops up and down the high street have been, and are being, shaken and shaken. If the high street were a tree, then you could say that the dead branches have broken off, the leaves have long blown away and as for the fruit and blossom... are we done pruning?
Who will take the time to look and plan ahead and hold expectations up against business plans and strategies when things are changing so fast? I favour sowing the seeds of 100 ideas, using the quieter months of January and February to embrace those that appear to hold the best promise, then nurturing and watering the ones that bud, sticking with them until they blossom.
For me, three of those 100 seeds are:
1. Giving our confectionery department a seasonal vitamin shot in the butt. Having exposed the limitations of the centralised model of supplying a range of products to each shop, from now on, each of my shops will have a patissier/confectioner working in-house to meet the needs of that particular shop. This, I hope, will encourage creativity, give better work satisfaction by seeing the products made on-site being displayed and enjoyed, engender a better atmosphere for the shop with more productive activity, fresh baking smells, and further enhance the shops’ individual and unique selling points.
2. Open a new bread shop. The flavour will be distinctly Old School Neighbourhood Bakery. Who wants to join the proliferation of coffee/café chains when decent bread, cakes and filled rolls are safe and so very post-credit-crunch? Think wholesome, filling and affordable bread with occasional handmade confectionery treats! I will be looking to present the lot in a fresh way, aiming to provide an enjoyable and informative environment in which to work and shop, backed up with modern systems, hot bread and shiny cakeage, to ensure irresistible quality throughout.
3. As craft bakers we must now pick up the baton from the Hairy Bakers, Andrew Whitley and Dan Lepard et al, by communicating the differences in our breads, processes and ethics to our customers, so that we establish, beyond refute, that we belong to the solutions and the revalued spending patterns of the post-credit-crunch, timid and savvy consumer.
And if we can learn anything from bakery newcomers Wallace & Gromit - whose latest adventure saw them tossing a too-soft loaf helplessly into the spokes of a bike hurtling towards a zoo’s crocodile pit - it is the need to get the bread right. As Wallace said: "We should have used the Granary!"