Atwood's customers can make their own customized baskets, but the bakery limits the products and containers they can choose.
The days of the mom-and-pop bakery in every neighborhood are gone. Now, consumers are inundated with bakery products in nearly every shopping environment, from the local gas station to the discount store. Some may worry that this is denigrating bakery products in general, however, enterprising bakers are fighting back by offering unique, high-quality products and charging an equally high-quality price. The result? Consumers are eating it up.
What these bakers understand is that to live up to the expectations their prices raise, the bakeries, as well as the products, have to be a memorable and enjoyable experience. "We are trying to be more customer-friendly," says Jack Elmer, owner of JaCiva's Chocolatier and Bakery, Portland, Ore. "All they have to do is ask, and we will have the answers. We will do anything we need to do to get them the answer."
People no longer want to just buy, they want an experience when they are shopping, says Mark Atwood, owner of Atwood's Bakery, Alexandria, La. He recently moved into a new location, and that "experience shopping" factored heavily into the design of his store. "We tried to style the bakery around some ‘wow' factor. We didn't want untouchable, like lot of copper or marble, but we wanted it to still be pretty," he adds.
Atwood researched the effect colors have on people, and he chose a peachy color called coral beach for the stucco-looking walls and green floors, which evoke a homey feeling. "We wanted people to feel comfortable here for awhile," he says.
A bakery's appearance factors greatly in how much customers are willing to spend. "We can go more upscale with our products because people feel comfortable, but not intimidated. They feel like we are charging a fair value for what they're getting," Atwood adds. "The baking industry is so price-sensitive, but most consumers don't care about price as long as they feel it is worth it. Part of that is the products, part of that is the sales staff. All of it is about making the customer feel good."
Bakery as a night spot
With JaCiva's renewed focus on the customer's experience, Elmer recently extended the bakery's hours on Friday and Saturday evenings for "JaCiva's After Dark." Along with the extended hours, JaCiva's also expanded product offerings to include gourmet coffee and chocolate drinks. During JaCiva's After Dark, the bakery serves fancy chocolates and special desserts. "We are focusing on the things we make already, we were already upscale," Elmer says. While the bakery is only open two nights a week, he plans to eventually be open five evenings a week. "I agreed to start out small, but I think this is going to end up being huge," he adds.
While the longer hours do require additional sales staffing, Elmer is not expecting any additional costs. All of the production will be done during normal production hours with the same amount of staff. He estimates that about three-quarters of the bakery's showcases, including the chocolate case, will be full for the evening customers. Only the breakfast items that are prepared each morning will not be available.
Atwood's Bakery also is open two nights a week to draw additional customers. Atwood plans to keep the night hours limited to Thursday and Friday to help retain the specialness of the bakery as a night spot. The deli does reopen and all of the bakery's products are available, but customers generally want the three specialty plated desserts that are only offered in the evenings. The most popular item recently was a mountainous-looking dessert that featured a scoop of gelato shielded by three brownie wedges and topped with hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream and nuts. Atwood's charges from $3.50 to $6.50 for the desserts, and the offerings change weekly.
"At 5 o'clock, we switch to china and crystal with a higher level of service, no more paper. It lends to a feeling of family and hominess," Atwood says. "We want people to think of this as an extension of their living room. It's easier for them to meet here, and we even clean the dishes."
Upscaling product quality
With remodeled stores and extended hours, bakery products have to live up to customer expectations, and many bakers are meeting those expectations with upscaled products. "We do upscale our products, but then again, what is upscaling?" says Hans Nadler, owner of Nadler's Bakery & Deli, San Antonio. "Artisan bread is upscaling, but that hasn't taken off in our area. But we are doing more in petit fours and fancy pastries and tortes," he adds. Sales of these items have increased, and Nadler is seeing customers spend more money on products than they have in the past.
Nadler has definitely noticed more demand for quality in decorated cakes. "People want what they want, and they are very particular now. For the most part, they are willing to pay for it," he adds. While the bakery is able to accommodate the special decorated cake requests, he notes that it does put a strain on his staff. The number of people who are capable of doing the fancy detail that customers are asking for is limited, but the bakery has been able to meet demand so far. "It puts a big load on the top personnel in the decorating department, but they are doing it," he says.
Ingredient selection and production processes play a large role in presenting an upscale image. While all-scratch baking is often perceived to be the only upscale route, Nadler found his quality control and product flexibility improved when he switched to mixes for certain items. "Retail bakers can't be the best at everything," he says. "You have to look around and see how others are doing things."
Nadler's had always made peanut brittle during the winter holiday season, but due to its labor-intensive production, the staff usually only made a pan or two. This year, Nadler switched to a mix that still maintained product quality and allowed the staff to make 10 to 20 pans at a time. "We had peanut brittle coming out of our ears," he says. "But customers bought it. When it was packaged, they bought it like crazy."
Packaging completes image
Packaging plays a large role when bakeries are trying to present a more upscale image, and in turn, charge the upscale prices. "Quality packaging helps sell product," Atwood says. For example, products in clear plastic domes will sell, but when those same items are in quality, high-end packaging, bakeries can sell three to four times as much, he adds.
"Packaging is a big word today," Nadler says. He credits some of the sales to the fact that it is very hard to find gifts under $50 that are worth giving. "But you come to the bakery and you can have a great gift for $15 or $20. The recipients can eat it and enjoy it without worrying about finding a place for the gift," he adds. The Internet has been a boon for finding packaging, he adds. It allows him to shop around and find inexpensive packaging that looks great, and by using the Internet to order packaging, he only has to purchase the amount the bakery needs.
One of Nadler's most popular forms of packaging are box towers. He buys the boxes in sets of five with the boxes nestling inside each other, so storage is not a pressing issue.
Although the boxes are purchased in sets of five, the bakery offers the towers in all sizes. "We build towers to order. Some want two boxes, some want three. We can do whatever they desire," Nadler says. Customers also can specify which product they want in each box, such as candies, fudge, peanut brittle or cookies.
"This past Christmas we had a pharmaceutical company that spent $14,000 with us because we had the towers," he adds.
Make accents seasonal
When purchasing packaging, Nadler suggests staying away from holiday or season-specific designs. Try to purchase packaging that is more evergreen. "You can make it look Christmasy by adding ribbon, but with non-seasonal items, you don't have worry about using them up or storing them until next year," he says.
Nadler's also adds sales by upscaling the packaging on certain items that might not sell well without being packaged. Take for example, the bakery's ring cake, which retailed for $5.99 and did not sell all that well. When Nadler packaged them in plastic and wrapped a bow around them, sales took off, and he charged more, $12.99, for them. "They will buy it wrapped, so they can give it as a gift. They might not want to buy it to take to the office or wherever, but they will buy it for a gift," Nadler says.
Atwood's sells large numbers of finished gift baskets, but the bakery has recently begun offering baskets customers can create to their specifications. Atwood refers to it as global customization. "People want custom products, but you have offer products that are as universal as possible, so you give them choices, but on your terms," he says.
For customized packages, the bakery offers nine different container choices; three wicker, three ceramic and three metal; with each container listing the number of products that it can fit. The bakery products are then displayed nearby, with each product packaged to about the same cubic inch size. Customers select their container and the products to fill it. Atwood also has plastic overwrap bags to fit each different container, so once the customer make the selection, the staff can assemble it in a matter of minutes.
"What it boils down to is making the customer feel good about giving you their money," Atwood says.