Here’s a question which keeps coming up. Our simple, yet perceptive, country baker Tony Phillips raises it in his column. Are craft bakers too focused on baking, at the expense of sales?
As he puts it, bakers tend to spend their time on the production side “with their head in the trough and their bottoms in the air”. The selling side, which requires a totally different set of skills from production - merchandising, marketing and so on, is sidelined.
It’s a balancing act, but bakers must remember that, if their stores do not look inviting, passers-by may form the impression that the same standards apply to production as to presentation, They assume what is on sale is neither high-quality nor tasty. That, I think, is why a more glossy outfit, which looks bright and welcoming, may have a queue stretching to the door, while the established local bakery shop, where delicious products are made from scratch, can look like an empty set on a TV drama about yesteryear.
When I’m out and about, I keep my eyes peeled for bakery shops. They are disappointingly few and far between. And, when I do find them, they tend to be painted in peeling brown gloss paint, with dusty windows, often with scrappy pieces of A4 paper, advertising promotions, blu-tacked on. It sounds mean to be critical of craft bakers, who have fantastic skills and work really hard, but sadly, appearances do count.
If, to attract new customers, you spend £5,000 on a shop makeover, your takings may go up £500 a week. In three months’ time, you start to have funds to invest.
It may seem a risky strategy to take on debt if sales are poor. But if you’re sure your bakery is in a good location, it is the way forward, particularly with the rise of slick sandwich chains and coffee bars, which sell cakes and biscuits.
There is also the question of opening hours. On a Sunday I’m often struck by the fact my local Greggs is open, that Subway is chugging away nicely, Pret A Manger is full, and Caffè Nero is buzzing, yet the neighbourhood’s independent shops are firmly closed.
Perhaps, they need to take a lead from the likes of Birds of Derby or Chester-based Chatwins, which sell a skeleton range and employ a skeleton staff in stores that trade on Sundays.
On the subject of clever solutions: we welcome entries from forward-thinking craft bakers in our Baking Industry Awards; the deadline for entry is now June 30.