What makes one supermarket stand out from all the others? Its products and its people. Dorothy Lane Market (DLM), Dayton, Ohio, has made it its business to treat its people (both employees and customers) well and focus on providing only the best products, especially in perimeter departments, such as bakery. “What department in a grocery store can you be so different from all the other competitors?” asks Scott Fox, bakery director. “In bakery you have an opportunity to be so different–if you make a commitment to it.”
That differentiation began in 1994 when DLM was looking to change its production method from mostly frozen and bake-off product to scratch/mix. The chain retained Fox as a consultant to develop a scratch artisan bread program, and he moved into a full-time position in 1996. At that time, the Washington Square store was selling $13,000 in product a week and Oakwood was doing $17,000 a week. Today, with the focus on quality products and customer service, the two bakeries bring in $55,000 and $35,000 a week, respectively.
The success of the bakeries was rooted in the revamped bread program and its key tenets of made today, sold today and customer service.
“We’re servicing every loaf of bread we sell, that will never change,” Fox says. “Customers can get it sliced, unsliced, by the whole loaf or half, or placed in a paper or plastic bag.” For customers wanting a half loaf, DLM charges 60 percent of the whole loaf price.
Bread now accounts for about 34 percent of DLM’s bakery sales, averaging about $40,000 a week for the three stores combined. About 18,000 to 20,000 pounds of bread dough are produced weekly, and retail bakery managers keep a close eye on shrink.
“If you don’t have enough bread on display, your sales go down. We’re running about 20 to 24 percent shrink,” he says. “It sounds crazy high, but it’s really not. If we go below 20 percent, then our sales start to suffer.” In comparison, DLM tries to keep shrink around 7 to 10 percent on other products.
Artisan bread production, led by production manager Joey Wrobel (left), is done mostly by hand.
While the scratch production began with bread, it didn’t stop there. “Seventeen years ago, we were bringing in a lot of product from the outside, and now we’re making more of our own product every year,” Fox says. Bagels are from a base; yogurt and crumb cakes are from a mix; pretzels, laminated sweet dough and hamburger buns are purchased frozen from Servatti Pastry Shop in Cincinnati, which are then baked off in house, but all cake and pastry items are from scratch.
By 2002, the bread program was well established, and DLM was opening Springboro, its third location. The time was right to add a scratch patisserie program. The new bakery was designed to include a pastry kitchen, and DLM worked with local chocolatier Ghyslain Mauris to develop the product line and train DLM staff.
A central bakery, opened in 2004, further enhanced DLM’s commitment to providing the best quality products, and provided production space for the Killer Brownie® and Laura’s Cookies. The central bakery is designed as a support for the stores and operates to break even, with the bakeries purchasing product from the central bakery at cost.
Each store and the central bakery have defined production roles. This keeps efficiency high and profits up as well as maintaining product quality and consistency. Click on the image at left to see Dorothy Lane at a glance.
The Washington Square location currently houses cake decorating for all three locations. The cake decorators will be moving in the next several months to a new location in the central bakery, giving both the bread and cake teams much needed additional space.
Bread dough, made from starters, poolish, levains and bigas with about three-quarters requiring overnight fermentation, as well as bagel pucks are made at Washington Square. Bread is then baked in hearth ovens in both the Washington Square and Springboro stores. The Oakwood store doesn’t have the space for a hearth oven, so Washington Square bakes the dough for that location for delivery of fresh baked bread in the morning.
Washington Square production begins at 10 p.m. when the bakers arrive to begin baking bagels, pan breads, rolls and hamburger buns followed by cookies. Mixers begin at about 11 p.m. and artisan bread bench work starts at 4 a.m. Most bread work is done by hand; the only automation is a dough divider, baguette moulder and two spiral mixers.
The custom-made bread display features racks that roll in and out.
At Springboro, the bread bakers arrive at 3:30 a.m. Bread dough is delivered every afternoon and put into a retarder until about 9 p.m., when it is pulled out to proof until the bakers arrive.
Pastry production, also housed at Springboro, begins at 6 a.m. and finishes at about 4 p.m., with cabinets of product sent out to the other locations in the morning. Oakwood bakes the fruit pies, all sweet yeast-raised products, coffeecakes and Danish-type laminated doughs. The central bakery makes all the cake layers, buttercreams, crumb cakes and cookie doughs. It also houses Killer Brownie production as well as Laura’s Cookies.
“Back in the mid-80s, DLM formulated Killer Brownies as a result of the owner Norman Mayne wanting to create unique, signature products and services to be better able to compete in the changing market place,” Fox says.
DLM licenses the trademarked product to 16 supermarket chains that have a focus on bakery, accounting for more than 200 stores across the country and Canada that sell the nine varieties of Killer Brownies. “The Killer Brownie has taken off as a business of its own,” he adds.
Laura’s Cookies, available exclusively in Dorothy Lane stores, are produced in the central bakery.
In 2008, with the space available in the central bakery and the contract with an outside manufacturer running out, DLM brought brownie production back in-house. After baking, the brownies are boxed, palletized and ready to ship. Among the three stores, Killer Brownies account for more than 8 percent of sales and bring in more than half a million in retail sales yearly.
Also in the central bakery is Laura’s Cookies production. In 2000, Laura Enzbrenner convinced DLM to sell her cookies in the stores and provide her space to make them. The cookies are rolled out and cut by hand. They are then baked in the central bakery’s revolving tray ovens and decorated, also by hand. Laura’s Cookies are available exclusively in DLM stores and its mail-order service; last year, more than 300,000 cookies were sold.
“When you say Dorothy Lane Market bakery, it’s Killer Brownies, Laura’s Cookies and artisan bread,” Fox says.
In order to get the product to the different locations, DLM drivers start at 5 a.m. at Washington Square, where they load up Laura’s Cookies and cake orders for both Springboro and Oakwood along with the first run of baked bread for Oakwood. While making the Oakwood delivery, the fruit pies, Danish, yeast-raised coffee cakes, muffins and scones are loaded for the other two stores. Then, they deliver to Springboro and pick up the pastisserie cabinets for the other two stores. Then, it’s back to Washington Square (the hub with the central bakery located across the parking lot) to begin the route again. They also deliver product to DLM’s wholesale customers.
Right management fit
While Fox likes production, he thrives on the business aspects. The bakeries operate more like a restaurant with distinct front of house (retail) and back of house (production) staffs. “In our industry, we tend to take the best bakers and make them the bakery manager. They often aren’t the best managers,” he says. They are focused on making the product and are often gone by the time the bakery gets busy with customers. Click on the image at left to see Dorothy Lane's sampling of prices.
DLM’s three retail bakery managers–Jennifer Dahm, Jessica Alvarez and Debbie Vandivier–don’t arrive for work until 8:30 or 9 a.m., which means they are still onsite when the bakeries are typically busiest. The retail bakery managers “are merchandisers, they know their numbers and they know how to treat associates and customers. They know how to be profitable,” Fox says. Production managers don’t have to worry about retail functions; they just have to worry about making what their customers (the stores) have ordered.
The three retail bakery managers and all production managers report to Fox. Each store also has an assistant retail bakery manager, and managers are encouraged to let the assistant managers write the schedules and write up the production orders occasionally so they are ready to step in when the manager is not there.
Every other week, the baking managers and Fox meet to go over numbers and address any areas of concern. The 90-minute meetings also allow the managers to introduce new ideas for products or merchandising as well as decide the products that will be demo’d for the next two weeks. “I just feel like you have to have someone in charge of every area. I don’t want my retail managers worrying about trying to get product made. I want them focused on merchandising and selling and taking good care of the staff and customers,” Fox says.
“The biggest thing I learned at Dorothy Lane, and I learned it early on, is that the most important thing we have and need to take care of is our associates,” he adds. “If we take care of them, they’ll take good care of the customers.”