| For 25 years, Rick Boone (second from right) and his wife Sharon, along with son David (left) and Mark Sigler (right) have maintained Ricke's Bakery as Fayetteville's top spot for cakes and donuts. |
In 1980, he saw a strip mall in Fayetteville with an old donut shop in it. Boone and the owner of the building decided to re-open the small, 800-sq.-ft. donut shop. After Boone bought out his partner, he and Sharon were left to run the business. “We thought we could get it up and running in six months, hire a manager to come in and run things while we could be gone doing something else,” Boone says. “Twenty-five years later, it still hasn’t happened.”
Boone grew his donut business to seven retail outlets and a wholesale plant, in addition to the original store. He realized that while business appeared good, he wasn’t making any money, so he decided to regroup and shift his focus away from wholesale donuts to running a full-line retail bakery. “We went back to the one little store, and it was doing $7,000 a month. Everyone advised us to get out and close our doors,” Boone says. “But I’m kind of stubborn. We stayed put and decided to just be a retail bakery by adding new products.”
His stubbornness paid off. Rick’s Bakery today is 12,500 sq. ft. and services more than 650 customers a day. With each customer spending on average $15.90, business is good.
The bakery has remained in the same strip mall for 25 years, but it moved two doors down and took over more space three years ago. The 8,000-sq.-ft. space included 1,000 sq. ft. of production, a 450-sq.-ft. wedding cake room for private bridal consultations and 800-sq.-ft. party room that also is opened as needed for extra seating for the bakery. The cake decorating and retail area occupies about 400 sq. ft.
The bakery still needed more space, so Boone has since added 2,000 sq. ft. of storage to accommodate his blast freezers, and is currently adding a cake decorating and pastry room that will add another 2,500 sq. ft.
| Known for its decorated cakes, Rick's Bakery sells 600 to 800 birthday cakes a week, accounting for 50% of sales. |
Before the bakery’s move, it was averaging 17 percent growth per month over the previous year. Since the move, that has more than doubled to 35 to 38 percent growth per month over the previous year.
Boone has worked to create the perfect balance of customers. When the bakery first opened in the new location, lines were going out the door. He was concerned that he was actually losing sales. “If you don’t have enough customers coming in, nobody thinks you’re in business. But if you get the lines too long, people think they can’t get in and will skip you entirely,” Boone says.
To solve the problem, he moved the donut case further away from the door. Before, only 30 to 40 people could line up, and now almost 70 people can be in line before it extends outside the bakery. “Now when people drive up, it doesn’t look as busy,” he adds.
With additional people in line, Boone knows he has to keep people moving or he will lose sales anyway. David, the Boones’ son and production manager, can see the entire sales area of the bakery from the production room. He earmarks customers to time how long it takes them to get through the line. “We try to get customers served in about three minutes. Sometimes it might take five, but we never let it go over that,” Boone says.
Creating quality products that keep customers lining up has been a process of trial and error from the very beginning, Boone says. When he and Sharon first opened the donut shop, they did not know the first thing about making donuts.
“We just read the mix bag, and followed the directions. I’m sure those first donuts were nasty. We had no clue about proofing or mixing times,” Boone adds.
Learning from trial and error
When the Boones expanded into a full-line bakery, he again had to rely on his ability to mimic without really knowing the processes. He picked up ideas from products around him, even products that seem to have little to do with traditional baking.
“We do a peanut butter pie that is based on Reese’s Pieces®. I cut one in half and said, ‘OK, I’m going to do a pie like that,’” Boone says.
| The bakery began as a donut shop, and still sells 8,000 on Saturday and Sunday. |
Now that the bakery supports such a large staff and more space, Boone has had to devote more time to training. Before the bakery moved three years ago, the space was so small that a new employee was paired up with a veteran, and Boone could easily keep his eye on the new employee. That is no longer possible. So, Boone has developed some employee manuals with clearly defined steps.
“The military is where I get my ideas,” Boone says, who received his education through a full-ride scholarship from the Air Force. “In the military, one stripe you learn this, two stripes and you move up to this. And, that method is what our pay scale is based on. Once you learn A, you can learn B and make this much money. Then, you learn C and earn this much money.”
Rick’s Bakery also has moved away from cross training. In the bakery’s previous location, all employees were cross-trained. The current location proved to be too large for employees to do everything.
Therefore, the Boones adopted more specialized tasks. Production employees bake the products and bring them up to the glass window behind the sales area. The sales staff is responsible for taking the finished products and displaying them.
While Rick’s started as a donut shop (the bakery is still known for its donuts, selling 3,000 to 4,000 on a weekday and double that on weekends), almost half of the business is generated from decorated cakes.
From donuts to cakes
“We’re known for our cake decorating,” Boone says (see Business Sense, pg. 70). Sharon stays up on the current trends in colors and styles, and that is one of the reasons the bakery has grown in customer counts and sales, he adds. The bakery’s decorating staff includes RBA’s 2005 Creative Decorating Champion as well as a decorator who won two categories in the 2004 competition.
However, the road to award-winning cakes did not begin smoothly. When the Boones expanded the bakery into a full-line retail shop, they knew they wanted to offer decorated cakes. Neither had any decorating experience, so they hired an experienced decorator. The week before the first wedding cakes were to go out, the decorator was gone.
“I picked up a decorating bag, looked at Sharon and said ‘You’re more artistic than I am, so here.’ She just worked all day and night to get the wedding cakes out,” he says. “We won’t let people down, and we don’t quit.”
Letting people down has never been a problem for Rick’s, and that has generated a lot of word of mouth publicity. Boone rarely advertises, and instead focuses on advertising generated through press releases.
The bakery has an imaging consultant that ensures all media outlets get press releases on activities in the bakery. What doesn’t seem like news can be news, Boone adds. When he signed the contract for the new space for the bakery, he sent out a press release, and one of the local TV stations came out to cover it.
| Rick's Bakery features plentiful seating for customers with retail merchandise positioned so customers must walk around it. |
While Boone does recommend imaging consultants for other bakeries, he admits that wouldn’t have been the case until three or four years ago. Bakery owners end up with a lot on their plates, he says, and they often don’t have the contacts needed to get coverage or results. Rick’s imaging consultant handles everything from the bakery’s giveaways to press releases and any sign designs the bakery needs.
“Even if you can only afford three to four hours a month, the time they [image consultants] can save you will more than pay for themselves,” Boone adds.
Rick’s Bakery also has moved beyond offering only conventional bakery items, and now offers lunch. The soup, sandwich and salad lines seemed to fit in well with Rick’s staff and clientele. The bakery only added one additional employee who is dedicated to the sandwich line, and the existing staff picks up the remaining work.
Expanding beyond traditional bakery
“We have a lot of people who come in to pick up cakes mid-day, and we thought, why can’t they pick up lunch,” Boone says. “It’s worked out really well. It’s already doubled our expectations.”
The lunch has taken off so well that Boone is looking at offering pre-made sandwiches for grab-and-go traffic. The sandwich counter is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and he wants to capitalize on sales by making sure that customers can grab lunch when they come in for their morning breakfast treats.
Boone continues to look for different ways to grow his bakery’s sales, both in bakery products and beyond. Rick’s offers a variety of party goods to go along with its birthday cakes, including sparkler candles, plates, napkins and some party favors, such as tiaras.
The bakery also offers a few non-conventional items, like home decor candles. The only stipulation is that all products must relate to bakery in some way. For example, the home décor candles are in the shape of bakery products.
Rick’s Bakery also is starting a new pie line that is baked in glass dishes. Boone plans to devote an entire case to the pies. “We want to do pies like a birthday cake, where we write their name and bake it in. There’s no place else you can get pies in this area, so that’s a niche we can pop into,” Boone says.
He is looking to offer cookie and pastry trays, donut trays with dipping sauces and even sandwich trays. He also plans to offer catering trays that include lunch to go along with cake for birthday parties. “We have trucks that go out for wedding cakes on the weekends, but during the week they can start running the trays too,” Boone says.
He readily admits that his bakery is unlike most. The Tuscan-style seating area somehow peacefully coexists with the order-taking center with its castle facade and the neon signs over the showcases. His eclectic style can be attributed to the fact that he does not come from a bakery background.
“Since we’re first generation bakers, for us to change the way we do things, our attitude is ‘sure, why not,’ because we have no traditional method,” he says. “The market has changed. The way people think and how they used to do things 25 years ago is nothing like how they think and do things now.”
Rick’s Bakery…a sampling of prices
Glazed donut $0.49
Cake donut $0.49
8 ins., 1-layer $9.99
8 ins., 2-layer $13.99
1/4 shee $17.99
Dessert cake $19.99
Petit fours $1.19-1.29
Large sprinkle cookies $0.89
Small sprinkle cookies, each $0.39
Large decorated cookie $1.99
Small decorated cookie $0.99
Boston cream pie $12.99
Chocolate cream cheese bars $0.69
Muffins, each $0.69
Blueberry bagel $0.79
Rolls, 9-count $2.49
Rick’s Bakery...at a glance
Location: Fayetteville, Ark.
Primary business: 100% retail
Market served: Northwest Arkansas
Web site: Ricksbakery.com
Management: Rick Boone, co-owner; Sharon Boone, co-owner and decorating manager; David Boone, production manager; Mark Sigler, sales manager
Annual sales: $2 million
Bakery size: 12,500 sq. ft.
Product line: full-line, known for donuts and decorated cakes
Sales breakdown: decorated cakes/wedding cakes, 50%; donuts, 30%; beverages, 10%; cookies, 5%; brownies/petit fours, 5%
Major equipment: vertical mixer, spiral mixer, divider/rounder, reversible, sheeter, proofer, rack oven, deck oven
Bakery supply distributors: HF Scruggs, Best Brands, Eurosource
Plans: add more equipment to automate production, open another location in two years with possibility to add more