When customers walk into Oakmont Bakery in Oakmont, Pa., a half hour before closing time, they will see full showcases and no empty trays. “I believe that one of the main reasons for our increase over the last several years is that people know that when they come in the bakery, they are buying from full cases,” says owner Marc Serrao. “It's important to always look like we're ready for customers whether they come in at 8 in the morning or 4 in the afternoon.”
To help ensure the cases stay full, Serrao added a day baking shift about 18 months ago to bake additional products as they sell out. Customers that come in the morning for breakfast know that they can stop back on their way home from work for a dessert for dinner and they will have as large of a selection as they did in the morning, Serrao says.
Oakmont Bakery also employs merchandisers whose sole job it is to keep the 16 showcases full, clean and neat looking. Serrao noticed that his staff, like in most bakeries, only filled the showcases when there was a lull in customers. However, that meant when the bakery was busy, showcases could get empty looking, and customers were missing out on product that was ready, but just sitting in the back waiting to be moved into the showcases.
On slow days, Mondays and Tuesdays, one merchandiser is able to the handle the 125 ft. of showcases, and on busy days, two to three merchandisers work from about an hour before the bakery opens until it closes. “It really made a big difference in our appearance. When customers walk in, no matter how busy we are, it always looks neat and tidy,” Serrao adds.
This adherence to tidiness extends beyond the showcases to encompass the entire bakery. A housekeeping staff works the entire day to ensure the bakery is kept clean. All packaging is kept behind a wall behind the counter or under the showcases, so customers never see any clutter around the bakery products. Serrao recently purchased the building behind the bakery to use as a warehouse, so soon all ingredients and packaging will be moved out of the back of the bakery and brought in as needed, creating an even neater appearance, Serrao adds.
To organize the bakery, Serrao arranged it as several small specialty bakeries. All 28 varieties of donuts are grouped in one showcase and 22 types of bagels in another. Product names also help attract attention. Oakmont's Attitude Cupcakes, which the bakery sells thousands of every week, sport fun name.
For example, Elvis in Oakmont is a yellow cupcake filled banana mousse and topped with peanut butter icing and white chocolate ganache. The Parrothead also is a yellow cupcake, but is filled with key lime and iced with white cream and green ganache and garnished with a plastic palm tree and sunglasses. The Happy Camper is Oakmont's version of the s'more: a chocolate cupcake with marshmallow filling and topped with chocolate ganache, a chocolate candy bar, graham cracker crumbs and a miniature marshmallow.
If customers aren't finding what they want, all they have to do is look to the 60-in. LCD screens that are continually showing a variety of Oakmont's full line of products.
“Most of my customers realize that my staff and I share a passion for making coming to the bakery an experience,” Serrao says. “It's not very often that you see a bakery like this…one that people want to come in and just look around.”
Companion's best merchandising trick? Sampling, sampling, sampling, says co-owner Josh Allen. “If you put something in somebody's mouth, it has an impact. And do it consistently, especially when you have lines. There's no better way to alleviate somebody's frustration for having to wait in line than with a sample of one baguette fresh out of the oven or having them taste a pastry item.”
The St. Louis-based bakery includes a wholesale bakehouse and three bakery cafes with 70 percent of sales coming from wholesale. Since the majority of the bakery's sales are from wholesale accounts, Allen employs unique merchandising techniques to gain recognition for the bakery's products.
The largest push is the Chef's Collaborative program with local chefs to highlight bread as a menu item and not just something to enjoy at the beginning of the meal with a breadbasket. Every six weeks, Allen chooses a new bread variety and a different chef. The chef makes a menu item featuring the bread at his or her restaurant and develops a recipe using the bread that is featured on the bakery's web site. Companion's cafes also feature the loaf for those six weeks, as do the grocery stores that carry Companion bread.
“We've had a hard time getting folks to understand over the years that the bread they've had in a restaurant is the same bread they can buy in a grocery store and the same bread that we use for sandwiches in our cafes,” Allen says. “For some reason there's a huge disconnect, and this program was designed to bridge that gap.”
By having a waiter in a restaurant talk up the bread, it should help sell more in the grocery store or in the bakery cafes. “We really get a synergy from the three things where we wouldn't get it so much if we ran them as separate brands,” he adds.
In the bakery cafes, Allen relies on the theater of baking by having decorators and bakers working in full view of customers. While the majority of the baking is done at the wholesale bakehouse, each café has a baker on-site who bakes fresh baguettes, ciabatta and some other breads in the stores. About 300 lbs. of dough are produced at each café every day.
“Because we're a wholesale operator, it's impossible to get fresh baguettes to three different locations in time for lunch every day. This way we can pull bread out fresh every day in the cafes at 10:30 or 11 in the morning and it makes a dramatically better sandwich,” Allen says. “Actually watching someone do something changes your perspective of it, and it also increases your appreciation of the cost or the amount of talent that is associated with baking these items.”
The bakers and decorators also enjoy the exposure to the customers. Decorators take the cake orders and man the service bakery cases. One thing that is easy to forget while serving customers is to actually greet them pleasantly and to smile, Allen says. When the bakery is busy, it is easy for sales staff to focus solely on getting and filling the customers order without taking a few seconds to smile and say hello. “A lot of times, we're busy and they're doing everything they can to make sure they take care of the customer, but just stopping to say hello, or you're welcome or thank you, those simple things make a big difference.”
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