Tim Foley describes Bit of Swiss as a “medium-size” bakery. But the precision with which he operates his two locations in Stevensville, Mich., would make the big boys blush.
Although the breads are made from scratch, the bakers don't have to start from scratch when they arrive for their nightly production shifts. That's because every night they prepare a mis en place of pre-scaled and pre-mixed ingredients to give them a jump-start on the next night's bake. Salt and yeast are scaled separately and set aside from the pre-mix to eliminate any confusion about whether they have been added.
“All the bakers have to do is grab some preferment, scale the water, add the salt and yeast, and they're set to go,” Foley explains.
Standardized formulas are stored in the company's custom software, which can calculate the amounts of the various ingredients needed to produce any required batch yield. The software also makes generating invoices quick and easy.
For each production shift at both stores, Foley prints out the necessary formulas, slips them into plastic sleeves and places them in a binder. Using erasable markers, the bakers tick off the ingredients on a grid as they scale them. A printed line on the formula sheet clearly separates dry and wet ingredients.
Bakers also are required to document every step of the production process, from the time a dough is mixed to how long it is proofed to when, how long and by whom it was baked. Every batch is dated and assigned a number so it can be tracked during and after production.
At the end of every shift, the bakers record production problems and shortages on grading sheets, which are later used to identify necessary adjustments. Front-of-house personnel fill out customer complaint forms to document particular problems and how they handled them. Foley reviews the forms to determine if there are matters that require his attention or what can be used as fodder for future training.
Even with 23 production people between the two stores, Foley has found keeping the number of managers to a minimum works best.
“Just because someone is a great production person doesn't mean that he or she will be a great manager,” he emphasizes. “The two jobs require two separate sets of skills, and it is difficult to find individuals who have a mastery of both.
“Besides, I prefer to be a hands-on owner who is accessible and responsive to all of my employees,” he adds. “Lack of a complicated bureaucracy also encourages each employee to take full responsibility for his or her job.”
To keep communication flowing, and in keeping with his penchant for putting things in writing, Foley often slips informative notes in with his employees' paychecks.
“I might write a reminder to inform a customer who requests a ‘strawberry cake’ that we have several varieties,” he explains. “That way we can avoid confusion and unhappy customers.”
The low level of employee turnover at Bit of Swiss is proof that Foley's management style is an effective one.
“Our head pastry person has been with us for 19 years, our head baker for 16 and our mixer for 11,” he says.
James Gray may be a hands-on bakery operator, but when it comes to giving his employees responsibility for handling the day-to-day details of running the five (soon to be six) Dozen Bake Shop locations in Pittsburgh, he believes in taking a hands-off approach. But, he emphasizes, it's important they know there's a helping hand just a phone call away.
“My partner, Andrew Twigg, and I believe that trying to micromanage everything doesn't work for anybody,” Gray says. “It undermines the employees' sense of accountability and ownership in the business and, quite frankly, not only makes more work for us, but distracts us from focusing on our company's growth.”
Every person, from the managers to the bakers to the front-of-house staffers, understands the role he or she plays in the overall success of Dozen Bake Shop. Everyone is expected to take ownership of his or her component of the store operation.
“We lay out the product and service standards for our managers in writing, thoroughly train them, then hand over the controls,” he says. “But we recognize that it's up to the store staffs to make sure those standards are maintained.”
But, Gray points out, some things simply can't be taught.
“We know we can't teach a person to be genuinely friendly, get along well with colleagues and customers or have a pragmatic approach to the job,” he notes. “Those are the traits that will get an individual hired.”
Experience, he says, is the best teacher when it comes to developing effective problem-solving skills, particularly regarding product , employee or customer issues. However, managers always have direct access to assistance from the head baker (all production is done at a single location) or the owners if they need guidance and support.
As the company grows, Gray and Twigg prefer to promote from within.
“We monitor and track the progress of every employee in both the front and back of the house to identify those who have the potential and desire to work their way into management,” Gray explains.
Employees receive regular performance reviews and pay raises when appropriate. Several times a year, Gray brings company staffers together for a casual gathering at his home or an outing to a movie theater or bowling alley.
But, he says, employee commitment requires constant nurturing beyond formal reviews and occasional social events.
“All of our team members need to know that we acknowledge and appreciate their efforts every day. They need to know that any questions, concerns and suggestions they may have will be heard and addressed.
“And while we can't give out pay raises or throw parties all the time, we can say ‘you handled that situation really well’ or just plain ‘thank you’ on a regular basis. Our employees know how much we trust and value them. That's the management style that has proven that it works for us,” Gray adds.