A recent renovation resulted in a sustained sales hike for this West Orange, N.J. bakery. A variety of high quality products allow Supreme to span its diverse customer base.
In 2008, after several years of mostly flat sales, Richard Stolz, owner of Supreme Bakery, West Orange, N.J., knew he would have to take a big risk if he wanted to emerge from the sales slump. So, despite the ailing national economy and a tight personal budget, Stolz invested $200,000 to give Supreme Bakery's 1,000-sq.-ft. storefront a total makeover.
“Almost immediately after last October's unveiling of our new look, our sales shot up by 10 percent and have continued to increase each month since then,” Stolz says.
He spent $50,000 enlarging the front windows to bring the inside of the store outside, giving passersby a clear view of the colorful array of products on display. To subtly emphasize the bakery's position as a local landmark, he replaced the building's siding with stone similar to the outside of the historic church across the street.
Inside, the changes included floor (hardwood), ceiling (copper-looking tiles and strategically placed lighting) and almost everything in between. Existing showcases (three 6-ft. service cases — two refrigerated and one dry) were updated with the addition of marble tops. A new showcase for cupcakes, Supreme's fastest growing product line, also was added.
A computer station recessed into a side wall makes it easy for customers to view a slide show of special occasion cakes. One major design component that survived the transition was a 3-ft. by 5-ft. window between the retail and production areas, which allows customers to watch the bakers and decorators at work.
The recent remodel wasn't the first time Stolz had renovated to improve business. In 2000, he invested $300,000 in an expansion that doubled the bakery's production space, allowing it to add more equipment and make production more efficient.
Though a careful businessman, Stolz learned the importance of making bold moves in bad times when he first joined his father, David, in the bakery more than three decades ago.
“My dad was a very progressive thinker; for example, in 1980, he saw one of the first Apple computers in Boston, predicted that they would change the way people do business and decided right then and there to start selling them,” Stolz says. “Of course, his prediction has proven to be correct; unfortunately at the time there was no software to make it possible for the average person to use the computers.”
David entered the baking industry as bakery supply salsesman and later sold bakery equipment. In 1969, he rented a 3,000-sq.-ft. West Orange bakery in 1969. Although he was not a baker, he used his business savvy to open three satellite units and develop a local supermarket wholesale clientele.
Unfortunately, the rapid growth turned out to be a too-much-too-soon situation.
“My father was a great businessman, but he expanded too fast and without proper controls,” Stolz notes. “As a result, he had to close the satellite stores so he could concentrate on making the original bakery more efficient and profitable.”
In 1977, the original building's landlord decided that he wanted to take over the site to open his own bakery to compete with Supreme, so Stolz helped his father move the operation to a three-story, 2,500-sq.-ft. former antique store two doors down. Working together, the father and son also erected a cinder block building to enlarge the production space.
Stolz had begun his career in the family business by washing pots and pans while in junior high school. Although he never really intended to become a baker, he learned the basics from the bakery's production team.
“They constantly yelled at me if they thought I was trying to take any shortcuts,” he notes. “That's a lesson I definitely learned and that has stuck with me ever since.”
During the 12 years that father and son worked together (until David's passing in 1989), their diverse business philosophies created a balance that kept the bakery moving forward.
“One of the benefits for me was that he let me make mistakes, and I never heard ‘that's the way we've always done it’ from him,” Stolz says.
Ten years ago, he decided to hone his skills at the now defunct National Baking Center and became a certified master baker. He also added artisan bread baking to his repertoire.
Today, his full-line, primarily retail Supreme Bakery, where all of the products are baked fresh every day, is a $1.5 million per year operation with 27 employees (12 of whom work full time with nine dedicated to production). And, with the recent store remodel and the ongoing revitalization of the surrounding West Orange neighborhood, he expects revenue growth to continue.
“Right now, we're right in the middle of two very diverse customer demographic groups. To our east is the urban area of Newark, to our west are affluent suburbs that include multi-million-dollar mansions,” Stolz explains. “By offering product that appeals to different ethnic groups, we have always been able to draw customers from a lot of different demographic groups and intend to maintain this business philosophy as our community continues to evolve.”
In addition to neighborhood regulars, customers from as far away as New York City, about 20 miles east, make the pilgrimage to Supreme Bakery for decorated cakes. Cakes make up more than half (55 to 60 percent) of the bakery's sales; decorated cakes account for about 30 percent of these sales, 5 percent of which are wedding cakes.
For special occasion cakes, an increasing number of customers are looking for hand-decorated custom-shapes, from cars to guitars and high-heeled shoes to high fashion purses, rather than traditional rounds, squares and rectangles, he notes.
“Often customers come in to order a standard decorated cake, but when they sit down at our computer and see some of the original designs created by our head decorator, Miriam Escobar, they get excited about having a cake custom designed for them,” Stolz says.
In fact, the images have had such an impact on cake sales that Stolz wants to install an even more eye-catching 40-in. screen on which to present the slides. He also installed software that enables customers to order their cakes directly from the computer station in the bakery.
Stolz points out that Supreme was one of the first bakeries in the tri-state area to offer portrait cakes. He currently sells between two and three dozen a week.
“Customers can email their photos to us or they can actually walk in and have one put on a cake in just about three minutes,” he says.
After cakes, the yeast goods category is the next biggest source of revenue at Supreme, accounting for 20 percent of total sales. The bakery produces about 300 lbs. of Danish dough (also used to make coffee rings) per week and sells about 75 dozen Danish in eight flavors.
“While we do carry donuts and muffins for the convenience of our customers who want them, our Danish really carries our morning line,” Stolz says.
In the afternoons, cupcakes take the spotlight, currently accounting for 12 percent of sales and continuing to grow quickly.
“Since we put in the new cupcake case, we've been selling more than 1,500 a week, triple the amount we were selling before,” Stolz notes. “Afternoons are the busiest times for cupcakes because parents bring their children in for an after school treat and a snack for themselves.”
Stolz's 18-year-old son David jokes that bringing one of the bakery's cupcakes to a teacher earned him an A in the class, but he attributes his selection as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper to a cheese Danish.
About 18 dozen of the cupcakes sold at Supreme are 2.5-oz. versions of the bakery's signature, best-selling strawberry shortcake, which is made with a 4:1 ratio of heavy cream to topping. Stolz notes that the bakery also moves an average of a dozen 42-oz. shortcakes and 30 to 60 4-oz. squares (cut from half-sheets) per day.
Another signature specialty is strudel, which Stolz makes in apple and cheese varieties. The bakery sells more than 50 of the 1-lb. pastries at $8.50 each. Individually-sized pastries, such as fresh fruit and mousse-filled tarts, slices of cheesecake and cake, and seasonal fruit cobbler squares also are seeing increasing sales.
“Customers really enjoy selecting them one by one and bringing home a number of different kinds to taste and share,” he says.
One category that has not fared quite as well since the remodel is cookies. Stolz attributes the slight decrease in sales to the elimination of a center-of-the-floor rack displaying grab-and-go packaged cookies and trays to make room for the new retail case configurations.
But even though they are displayed only in a service case, cookies still make up between 4 and 5 percent of the bakery's total sales, Stolz says. He adds that during peak holiday cookie-selling times, additional gift trays are on display.
Although Stolz had high hopes for artisan breads, this category has not performed as well as he had originally thought it would.
“It turns out that this is not a big market for artisan breads,” he says.
However, Supreme does sell about three dozen poolish-based baguettes per day. Rye (made from its own starter) and multigrain (from a sourdough starter) also do well enough to merit shelf space every day, while around six other varieties, such as rustic Italian and walnut raisin, rotate throughout the week. He schedules bread baking during the day rather than at night so customers don't purchase product that is more than six hours out of the oven.
“Even though we don't sell large quantities of bread, I would rather bake it fresh here than buy it,” he says. “I would never sell anything at my bakery that I wouldn't serve in my own home.”
While Supreme's wholesale segment accounts for about 15 percent of the business, that number has fallen by 10 percent during the past few years.
“Three of our largest wholesale clients have recently closed and prospects tend to be increasingly hesitant about spending money on high-end products,” he says. “Right now, we're trying to figure out the best way to expand that segment of our business, so we're trying to re-define our customer base and tailor our wholesale offerings to suit the product line and budgetary needs of that base,” he says.
To keep his retail rising, Stolz also is planning to increase his annual advertising and promotional expenditures to somewhere between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of total sales. The bulk of the budget will be funneled into direct e-mail to existing customers, including a recently launched monthly e-newsletter.
The bakery's email list currently consists of about 700 customer names. According to Stolz, this number is only the tip of the iceberg. More than 3,000 customers visit Supreme Bakery each week.
In addition to current customers, he intends to reach out to prospects by expanding the bakery's presence on the Internet through use of social networking vehicles, such as Twitter and Facebook.
“Our experience is that customers who try us once continue coming back,” he says.
Location: West Orange, N.J.
Bakery's primary business: 85 percent retail, 15 percent wholesale
Founded: purchased by Stolz family in 1969
Bakery size: 4,000 sq. ft. (1,000 sq. ft. retail, 3,000 sq. ft. production)
Market served: Essex County (Newark and suburbs)
Sales: $1.5 million
Management: Richard Stolz, CMB, owner; Ann Marucci, general manager; Nicole Sinanan and Marie Alverna, store managers; Miriam Escobar, decorating manager; Juan Crespo, day production manager; Phenol Edmond, night production manager
Number of employees: 27
Production methods: scratch, mixes
Major equipment: vertical and spiral mixers, bench scales, floor scale, cookie depositor, reversible sheeter, rotary rack oven, deck ovens, proofer, rack washer, refrigerated showcases, walk-in refrigerators and freezers
Future plans: expand wholesale, increase advertising budget and study media options (including Internet) to determine which are most cost-effective
|Strawberry shortcake, 8 ins., 42 ozs. |
slice, 4 ozs.
|Victory cake, 8 ins., 40 ozs.||$14.25|
|Carrot cake, 8 ins., 36 ozs. |
slice, 3 ozs.
|Plain cheesecake, whole, 32 ozs. |
slice, 6 ozs.
|Cupcake, 2.5 ozs.||$1.25|
|Fresh fruit tart, large, 38 ozs. |
individual, 7 ozs.
|Baguette, 12 ozs.||$2.25|
|Multigrain bread, 24 ozs.||$2.25|
|Rye bread, 18 ozs.||$2.85|
|Foccacia, 6-in. round |
|Almond horn, 4 ozs.||$2.39|
|Brownie, 3 ozs.||$1.60|
|Pie, 8 ins., 40 ozs.||$9.25|
|Strudel, 16 ozs.||$8.50|
|Butter cookies, per lb.||$11.95|
|Chocolate chip cookie||$1.50|
|White chocolate blondie||$1.85|