The 90,000-sq.-ft. Marketplace Foods & Drug in Minot, N.D., bills itself as, “The only destination superstore in North Dakota.” If the (super)store is a destination, then the 6,500-sq.-ft. fullproduction bakery, stand-alone cake decorating department and designated bakery showplace is the merchandising equivalent of Disney-World, except there's nothing Mickey Mouse about it.
To start with, the bakery, which is headed by Bakery Manager Bryon Schoenberg, makes a wide array of terrific breads, cakes, cookies and other baked products, which it regularly promotes through active sampling and by responding to customer needs. For example, the bakery fries donuts in the morning and afternoon because that's when people buy them. The product and merchandising combination is so effective that people come from as far as 65 miles away, and Canada, just to buy baked products.
Store management consistently makes the in-store's product¯and its people¯a feature attraction. They bucked the industry trend toward downsizing and enlarged the overall bakery presence. They also separatedthe nine-person cake department, which has a department manager, Nyla Stromberg, and a full-time bakery merchandiser, Peggy Kallias.
“We try to create a ‘theater of fun' atmosphere in our department to intrigue the customers,” explains Cake Department Manager Nyla Stromberg, a twenty year store veteran. “People come by, talk with us, see what we're doing and watch [the cake decorating process].”
It would be hard to miss the bakery's emphasis on fun and excitement: an ogre-sized Shrek balloon climbing over the counter or a stirring red, white and blue “God Bless America” display for Independence Day or the legendary 160-sq.-ft. gingerbread Christmas house.
The bakery merchandising efforts generate publicity, which draws even more customers. The cake department consistently generates “buzz” with a calendar of traditional seasonal/holiday and other promotional events, including Hostfest, the annual Scandinavian heritage festival; Rodeo Days; and cakes that coincide with the release of major films. As a result, Stromberg estimates that the cake department represents 30 percent of bakery sales, generating about $9,000 to $10,000 in sales per week, depending on the time of year. Demand for cakes is so strong during school graduation, for example, they go to around-the-clock production and have to rent a refrigerated tractor trailer truck to store the finished cakes.
The gingerbread house illustrates store management's commitment to supporting staff creativity. Stromberg dreamed up the display and designed it by scaling up an 8-in. home version pattern. A talented cake decorator, but not a construction contractor, Stromberg was shocked to learn that the house cost $400 to build. She hesitantly confessed her mistake to store director Leon Merck, who calmly told her, “‘I've made mistakes before. Just go downstairs and have fun with it. You won't let me down.'” And she didn't. It was hard work she says, “But it was really fun. It felt like being five again and seeing the house come alive.”
If someone who's worked at the store for twenty years feels like a five year old, imagine how much fun it must be for customers.
While the first step to great merchandising is a beautiful product, succeeding in today's ultra-competitive market means staying aware of what customers want and then presenting those desires in an irresistible way.
Step into New York City's Bruno Bakery and you'll experience exactly what that's like.
Owner, Head Baker and Certified Master Baker Biagio Settepani has been consecutively named one of the ten best pastry chefs in America. Naturally, the bakery's bread and pastries have also won much acclaim and many awards, including the signature cannoli and a special chocolate mousse cake, with hazelnut crunch and pear mousse layers, that was proclaimed, “Cake of the Century” at one competition.
The 1,800-sq.-ft. landmark bakery, which has the feel of a chic Milanese patisserie, sits in the triangle of Greenwich Village, SoHo and Little Italy. The high ceilings and high-tech sculptural fixtures create a sunny atmosphere, along with tall windowpaneled doors that open onto sidewalk tables.
The bakery, which has been family-run since Biagio bought it in 1981 with his twin brother Antonino, and now includes the vision of Biagio's wife Josephine (known to all as Pina), reflects the design and layout of the Settepanis' frequent trips to Europe and Biagio's philosophy of today's business.
“The traditional look of a bakery, over the years, has probably changed. Because if you're strictly a bakery today, it's sort of hard to get by.”
In addition to the breads and limitedselection of cookies and cakes featured at traditional bakeries, Settepani believes the contemporary bakery should let the product do some of the work. First, he lets customers get involved with the product, by displaying it as close to the customer as possible. Then, he keeps the pastry case, especially the cannoli, in the back, so pastry-seeking customers can get involved with other products along the way.
“There might be something else there that will catch their eyes. So instead of just buying some pastry, they might buy something else that's already packaged.”
From a layout standpoint, today's bakery should incorporate several different “faces,” Settepani says. At the front, Bruno's customers find the frozen dessert counter, where they can get semifreddo and gelato virtually year round. Then, there's an area where customers can find savory items, such as quiches, pannini and focaccia sandwiches. And, an espresso bar is a must-have, he adds. Along with confections (world-class truffles) and gift baskets (which Pina “puts her heart and soul into making,” according to her husband.)
The key to it all, Settepani believes, is staying current.
“This is an industry that's changing every day. If they can, [bakers] should, once or twice a year, take some sort of continuing education classes that are offered in different schools. Just to see what the new trends are. Just to keep up with the new ideas.”
“We need to specialize ourselves. Because the supermarkets are getting really good at what they're doing. Because they invest the money into the employees. They send them to school to learn new items, new trends. If small retail shop bakers don't do that, they're going to be out of work or out of a business.”