For Ken Downey, president of the Retail Bakers of America (RBA), taking a grand tour may be less grueling, as compared with the Grand Tours of more than a century ago; yet, his trek is no less ambitious. Downey, (pictured far right), and Susan Nicolais, RBA executive director (far left), met with officials of the Wisconsin Bakers Association (WBA) and the Cream Puff mascot at the Wisconsin State Fair in August.
Last spring, Downey assumed the post and set a goal to visit as many RBA-affiliate and regional bakery associations across the country as possible during his one-year tenure. “RBA needs to have better contact with the various associations–to bring them up to date about what RBA is doing and bring RBA and them closer together,” he says.
Traveling with Susan Nicolais, RBA executive director, Downey is meeting with representatives of the associations while holding down his full-time position as director of bakery sales and merchandising for King’s Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J.
Nicolais says the tour’s goal is to have RBA and the associations work more closely together. “We’re sharing mutual concerns, such as maintaining memberships in the current economy,” she says, “and identifying the resources that we can share with each other.”
Since April, they have met with officials from the New Jersey Bakers Board of Trade, New York State Association of Manufacturing Retail Bakers, Greater Cincinnati Retail Bakers Association, Deep South Retail Bakers Association, Southeastern Retail Bakers Association and the Greater Southwest Retail Bakers Association. Future sessions will include a combined meeting of the Cincinnati group and the Ohio Bakers Association and talks with the Upper Midwest Bakery Association.
He also has garnered financial support from allied RBA members.
Nicolais says RBA’s number one goal is to offer products and services that members want and to increase membership. RBA currently is compiling the results of a survey that asked members to identify existing services they like and others that should be added.
“In our meetings, we’ve learned that members like the online Baker to Baker exchange (which connects bakery owners to share information and answer questions), the Master Baker Certification program and education programs at the All Things Baking expo, especially hands-on sessions,” Downey says. Nicolais notes at meetings that included prospective members, “new bakery owners had not been aware that a resource such as RBA exists. That told us we must get the word out more effectively.”
To extend its reach, RBA is using social media via a Facebook page, Twitter account and an All Things Baking page on Facebook. RBA also publishes a monthly enewsletter.
“Younger bakery owners recognize that they don’t have to be face to face to share information and to help each other,” she says.