Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery shop in Hastings and co-founded and sold Green & Black’s chocolate firm, with hubby Craig Sams
Despite the rise in interest rates and the government cuts, we are all privately or publicly giving three cheers for the fact that the UK is officially out of recession. At Judges Bakery, situated in Hastings a town on the south coast which boasts three out of the 10 poorest boroughs in the UK it has been challenging to compete with the BOGOFs, the sudden middle-class ’fashion’ for trawling the aisles of Lidl and Aldi (where before, the 4x4-driving mob would never have been seen dead), not to mention Tesco online.
But we’ve survived and thrived. Indeed, a second shop a ’franchise’ has now been opened 10 miles away. So, how have we managed? Initially, it was all too easy to be lured down the route of price-cutting. In fact, bread is unbelievable value, when you consider pence-per-calorie but we felt we needed to be perceived as truly competing with the supermarkets and bakery chains, even though our organic flour costs more. So our £1 loaf was born: a Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday-only initiative, which offered an 800g (unsliced) sandwich loaf for just a quid.
Because we sell a wide range of groceries, we started to offer more goods on promotion: our own two-for-ones, or offering discounts on slower lines to shift stock. The lunchtime ’meal deal’ was created: a sandwich, a drink and a piece of fruit for a very competitive price. But none of this really worked, and turnover fell. The £1 loaf was popular but the customers that bought it didn’t come back, the rest of the week, as we’d hoped. And as for lunch? We all know that, across the land, many people started making their own sandwiches, to save money.
So we took a different tack and decided to innovate our way out of the doldrums. Enter the Judges brioche; the seven-seed sourdough; the ’Mmmmmeringue’, as we call it a multi-peaked light-as-air confection about the size of Wales. We ’sexed up’ the sarnies and we introduced innovative and yes, often more expensive grocery lines. And, hey presto! Sales revived beautifully.
Because the simple truth is that, while many people are out there looking for a bargain, the majority want to be excited, tempted and delighted when they visit a small, independent bakery/store like ours. BOGOFs don’t do that, but a garlic-and-rosemary ’bread of the month’ another initiative sure did. And if the bread proved popular enough, we kept it as a weekend item. Most importantly, we tasted out our creations right, left and centre because tasting really is believing.
So Judges has become known again as somewhere to go to have your taste buds tantalised. The simple truth is, no matter how we cut prices, we were never going to compete with Lidl. But Lidl cannot compete with a bakery where there’s always something new and exciting to try, and where you never know what this month’s bread-of-the-month is going to be until you nip in to find out.
They say nothing succeeds like success. But in a recession, I’d say, nothing succeeds like innovation.