Husband and wife partnership Tricia and Paul Barker run a very individual bakery and café called Cinnamon Square, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. What makes it unusual is that this is Britain’s first ’theatre of baking’, where customers can watch the bakers make cakes and pastries and quiz them about how they do it. This area is known as the Makery. Children’s parties can be held here and Paul Barker also runs evening courses in bread and cake-making.
He and Tricia, who has extensive marketing experience, started a company called KiddieKraft in 2001, selling mail-order home baking kits for children. This firm is still running and is a past runner-up in The Daily Mirror’s Excellence in Enterprise competition. But having decided to set up their own bakery, the couple spent a long time finding the right property, eventually locating the current premises in a 16th-century listed building in the heart of Rickmansworth. Their big idea was to establish the Makery as the focal centre of the premises, with an emphasis on participation and involvement. The bakery takes its name from the company’s signature product, the cinnamon square, a delightful sweet bun, rolled with cinnamon filling and covered with a delicious cream cheese topping.
The Barkers’ approach to the Baking Industry Awards was, they say, very professional. "We prepared thoroughly and backed it up with facts and figures," says Tricia. "I did a Powerpoint presentation for the Marketing Award and had samples, too. The judges came here, then Paul did a stand-up presentation for the Skills Achievement Award at a hotel in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire."
Paul adds: "There were four independent judges at the hotel. Two of them hadn’t visited the shop, so I brought samples and photos. I went though my background and we had visuals of what the kids wear at parties. The children wear white lab coats and the party host wears a professor’s hat."
The awards presentation was based around one product, the cinnamon square. "Paul had spent a lot of time developing this and people said it was not just nice, but delicious," says Tricia. "We’ve expended a lot of effort creating a dedicated point of sale; in the centre of our shop we have display materials about the cinnamon square and, below that, boxes of them."
The Barkers also highlighted the Makery, which is booked out three months in advance for children’s parties, as well as the baking courses that Paul runs. "The credibility of winning the awards has highlighted the courses we run. We have had several large companies come in for an evening," says Tricia. "We had a cabinet specially made for the awards upstairs and it looks really good," says Tricia. "They are so prestigious."
In the year before winning two awards, the company had already won a Gold Star from The Guild of Fine Food for its cinnamon square. But what has really pleased the Barkers is the way their start-up company has "grown organically".
"To come in and make such an impact was great," says Tricia. "Word of mouth is huge. We set this business up to look professional and to deliver a good product, so that people talk about us."
Paul adds: "We’ve only been going two years and four months, and it’s getting busier and busier. In the first two months of this year, sales were 40% up on last year and 100% up on the first year."
One of the Barkers’ aims was to create something for everyone. "If the children are happy decorating cookies, then parents can have quality time over a cup of coffee," says Tricia.
In competing for the awards, the Barkers were aware that they were up against big companies with excellent reputations, but they remained confident about what they could do. And their confidence proved justified. "For us, as unknowns, it was fantastic to win," says Tricia. "We were absolutely delighted to pick up two awards on the night. It was a great evening ? a bit like the Oscars. We were so overwhelmed."
The Barkers’ business is growing strongly at the moment. "The publicity from the awards made people aware of what we do ? it certainly helped," says Tricia.
"Winning gives substance to our courses," adds Paul. "As soon as you say, ’an award-winning company’, it creates a certain perception. We’re introducing corporate training courses and we’ve just had the MD and the entire board of a well-known electrical company making bread together."
With the business growing on all fronts, the Barkers have taken on more staff, including another baker. "We’re trying to free some of our time to concentrate on where the business goes from here," says Paul.
New products are still being introduced. The latest are a yeast-free bread and freshly baked panatone. "They go like hot cakes, they’re so fresh," says Paul.
The Barkers say they would enter the awards again, but not necessarily the same categories. So do they have any tips for this year’s entrants? "Prepare well and put together a good presentation," says Tricia. Then she chuckles, "No, I’m not going to tell them anything! I want to win it again myself!"