Anyone that ever thought the bakery business was old fashioned has never met Slade Grove, owner of Phoenix-based Wicked Witch Bakery. Since opening his retail bakery in 2006, Grove has added a wholesale division, and he plans to expand to a new location by the end of this year. To stay ahead in business, he incorporates new technology to promote his brand, improve customer relations and adapt seamlessly for new growth.
What are the latest bakery trends at Wicked?
We are all about desserts and taking baking in a whole new direction. We're doing more retro products and really trying to play on the nostalgia aspect of the desserts we used to eat as child.
We look at traditional foods and try to make them new, even cinnamon rolls. I regularly visit food shows to find out what's new, what flavors consumers are craving and what's up and coming in the world of baking. We look at the trendsetters and try to take the trend to the next level in our bakery.
We're also seeing demand for smaller portion sizes, products meant for one person or for a couple to share. The American appetite is great, but I think we're getting out of the biggie-size-me mode.
How did you get into baking?
I worked in the IT world for years and just burned out. Baking has always been in my family and a part of my life. My great-grandma owned a pie shop, and my mother bakes like a fiend at Christmas. I grew up baking in the kitchen with my mom on our farm in Indiana.
I credit Williams-Sonoma (the kitchenware retail chain) with getting me started in this direction. I took six months off after I was finished with IT, and a friend who was a general manager there offered me a job. At first, I was hesitant to work in retail, but I took the job and enjoyed it. I began leading cooking and baking demonstrations and really enjoyed working with the customers.
So how did you start your bakery, then?
I went to culinary school through Williams-Sonoma's reimbursement program, and eventually started doing baking on the side out of my house. In May of 2004, I got serious and began sharing a commercial kitchen and selling cakes and pastries over the Internet. It evolved to a point where the orders were coming in, and customers were continually asking for a retail store. So we set up shop and opened the Wicked Witch Bakery in November of 2006.
And how's business today?
We're right in the middle of building a new store. It will be a 2,600-sq.-ft. flagship location at Central and Osborn in downtown Phoenix. We'll continue to operate our original 1,000-sq.-ft. location, but our growth in production dictated that we needed more space. About 80 percent of our business is from wholesale, and we're at about $475,000 in annual sales. We're shooting to open the new bakery in December this year and expect the additional production capacity will allow us to more than double our annual sales.
It sounds like business is booming for you. What's your secret to success?
We're evolving and always reinventing ourselves, and I think what helps make us a success is we're not stagnant. We've made it a priority to incorporate modern technology in our business to help us evolve our Wicked brand.
What is your new brand direction?
Our new bakery will be called Wicked Kitchen Gourmet. We're segmenting our bakery product line into brownies, cookies and cakes and adding a whole new line of confections.
The new location also will have expanded food offerings for lunch and a retail space that sells bakery products and kitchen tools for home baking. We'll also offer cooking, baking and pastry classes for our customers.
How have you incorporated your IT background into your bakery?
For a bakery, we're pretty integrated. We all have laptops with Wi-Fi built into them. And, we all have Blackberries, so as customer orders come in through our Web site, we're immediately notified and can ask questions about the orders right away if we need to.
We're in the middle of redesigning our Web site with new blogging capabilities and a customer relationship management system (CRM). This will allow us to tailor our e-newsletters to what the customers want. We want to know what they want to hear about. Do they want recipes? Do they want interactive video? The intent is to make our Wicked Kitchen Gourmet Web site a complete resource for our customers.
I think bakeries can increase profitability and trim food costs by using modern applications. There is a lot of technology out there for bakeries and restaurants, and you really have to shop around to find the right software for your operation. But, even an Excel spreadsheet can help you cut food costs radically because you can track how much it costs to make the products.