When Christina Jessie became bakery sales manager for Market of Choice supermarkets, headquartered in Eugene, Ore., she scoured supply houses and catalogs in search of stunning cake stands to display her department's products. But she quickly learned she didn't need glamorous stands. She just needed beautiful cakes.
Since then, Jessie has applied the strategy of “letting the product shine” to merchandising the bakery products in all seven (soon to be eight) Market of Choice stores in northwest Oregon's Willamette Valley.
“Because we're working with multiple bakery departments of varying sizes, every square foot is extremely valuable, so we have to design our displays to let our in-store-made products themselves do the talking and the selling,” Jessie explains.
With a full line of bakery products to display, Jessie has little room for frills. Signage is prominent but simple. “Too many signs can obscure the product,” she notes.
Point-of-sale brochures and other takeaway printed materials are readily available yet artfully displayed in holders to prevent clutter. Every piece of POS material must meet Market of Choice's visual standards; if it doesn't, Jessie asks her company's art department to design a piece that does.
“One of our most effective merchandising tools is our large ‘Baking in Season’ sign that we regularly change to introduce new products and give our customers information about local ingredients and suppliers that we use,” she says. “Another vehicle we use to communicate this information is our in-store (and web) advertising publication called Savories.
“As customers become more conscious of ingredient sourcing, they like to see where we get the butter and flour for our pastries, the berries for our thumbprint cookie fillings and even the real whipped cream we use for decoration,” she notes.
Displays of in-store-made products reflect timely themes. During blueberry season, shoppers will find an array of store-made products, from cakes and scones to colorful trifles and filled meringues, in the cases and on the tables that she groups as “service” displays (outsourced products have their own “retail” tables). Cut-out sugar cookies take on shapes and colors indicative of each season.
Jessie goes to extra lengths to make sure customers know exactly what they're getting when they purchase a bakery product from Market of Choice. She gives the example of the house-made tiramisu, which is made from an authentic, generations-old Italian recipe that uses Marsala wine-soaked sponge cake layers instead of the more Americanized rum and ladyfingers.
“Our version of tiramisu is the real thing, but we don't want our customers to expect one particular flavor and get another,” she says. “So we specifically label our product ‘Old World’ tiramisu to encourage them to take a look at the ingredients.”
For Market of Choice, seeking out and using environmentally friendly, sustainable packaging is a long-term commitment. Simply posting that information on a sign adds another dimension of product appeal for like-minded customers.
Jessie is most excited about the fact that Market of Choice recently moved all its department merchandisers to a single location.
“Now that we're all together, it's easier for us to bounce ideas off each other and work together to develop more cross-promotions,” she says. “We're looking forward to taking our merchandising efforts to a whole new level.”
Ken Slove isn't kidding when he refers to his wife Betty as his better half, particularly when it comes to dreaming up show-stopping merchandising ideas. Betty loves themes, says the Lovin' Oven Cakery owner, and she knows how to use them.
In both of the bakery's locations, in Round Lake Beach and Libertyville, Ill., Betty opted for traditional square showcases over the curvier European-style models because she wanted the maximum amount of counter space to encourage impulse buying. And with five cases, each averaging 18 sq. ft. of display space on top, she has a field day coming up with new ways to tempt Lovin' Oven customers.
“Roughly 20 percent of our total sales come from the impulse items she displays on top of the cases,” Ken says. “She comes up with product concepts that fit her theme, then she leaves it to me to create the actual items.”
For example, this summer, Betty wanted to design some displays around two favorite seasonal items — watermelon and lemonade. She found dishes, bowls and cups that could be used for displays, sold separately or filled with cookies and other bakery treats for hostess gifts.
The treats themselves included cakes, cupcakes and cookies either shaped or decorated to resemble watermelon. For the lemonade display, bakers made up an array of sweets tinged with the familiar citrus fruit.
While seasonality provides her overall themes, she regularly changes the displays within those themes to encompass holidays and freshen up the product line. For this summer, she displayed “ice cream sundaes” made from three cupcake “scoops” decorated with different flavored and colored icings and drizzles of chocolate fudge. Complementing the cupcakes were ice cream cone cookies topped with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry icing.
To renew the visual impact of her displays without changing their basic components, Betty frequently moves them to various locations throughout the store — for example, the lemonade and watermelon display will swap countertop space with the ice cream cupcakes and cones. Otherwise, she says, customers get used to seeing the displays in the same locations and begin to ignore them.
With all the mixing and matching that goes on outside the cases, you might expect the same to be true inside. But it's just the opposite.
“Our customers are used to seeing the same things in the same places within our cases,” Ken says. “Eclairs, for example, are always in the same exact spot every day. We've done it this way since the beginning, and that's the way our customers like it.”
The bakery's exterior window also is a draw and customers tell the couple they look forward to the next display. This summer's window shows a family at the beach (complete with ocean background and sand), relaxing on portable chairs and partaking of Lovin' Oven seasonal sweets.
“In some ways we feel like we've created a monster with our window scenes,” Ken says. “But when you see customers get so excited by them, it's all worth it.”