At this morning's educational session about low-cost bakery promotions, panelists offered suggestions and shared stories about how to boost foot traffic without spending a bundle. The most important takeaway for me was the degree to which each bakery's approach differed based on their location, size and, most importantly, who their customer is.
For Mary Gassen, co-owner of Noe Valley Bakery in San Francisco with her husband Michael Gassen, being a bakery owner has meant adapting to an ever-changing world and focusing on what differentiates the bakery. When Whole Foods opened shop across the street in November 2009, taking 10 percent of business from each category with it, Gassen's response was to focus on how the bakery could stand out with its handcrafted cakes.
"We focused on the product first," she said. "If the cakes aren't good, it doesn't matter how many coupons you send. We always had a very simple style of cakes, but Food Network has changed everything with those big sculpted and tiered cakes. We wanted to attract the customers who want those kinds of cakes."
The bakery invested in a fondant sheeter and new staff with experience in sculpted cakes. The bakery started displaying the new cakes in the front window--enhanced by attractive vinyl letters--to capitalize on the neighborhood's heavy foot traffic and draw in new customers. "It's like Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come," she added, laughing.
Gassen also hired a graphic designer to create a digital cake book, which is now featured on the bakery's website and appeals to the younger, tech-savvy clientele. She also posts pictures of product on the bakery's Facebook page. "The number of followers you have grows with the number of postings you do," she said.
Odette D'Aniello, owner of Celebrity Cake Studio in Tacoma, Wash., rarely uses snail mail or print advertisements anymore to attract customers, likening it to "throwing money in the wind." She focuses instead on digital advertising and giving away product at community events. She donates cupcakes to local charitable and networking events that also attract her target market of 22- to 55-year-old foodies with disposable income, hoping to simply get the product in their hands. "We did Bellevu's Fashion Week gratis because it's attended by well-dressed women who Tweet and Facebook--that's our perfect market. Plus, it's fun. I only do promotions with people I like," she added.
"Speaking to that point," Rich Reinwald, panel moderator and owner of Reinwald's Bakery in Huntington, N.Y., added, "you want the person you do promotions with to like you because then they will actually promote you because they believe in your product."
At Tilda's Bake Shop on Long Island, owner Ed Maher relies heavily on direct-mail marketing and loyalty cards because of his rural location and older clientele who aren't as comfortable with email.
"I have no draw, only my promotions," he said, noting that his bakery gets very little foot traffic because of its location. He buys mailing lists and regularly sends out postcards for free or discounted product, timing the promotions so they don't overlap with the busy holiday seasons. "The beauty of the card is there's an expiration date," he said.
He gets 25-30 percent return on the cards--which cost him about 40 cents apiece. Furthermore, 60-70 percent who come in for their free product end up buying something else. "I'm just happy when they come in," he said. "Then they see the product, taste the cookies and you take over with the quality of your product and your brand."