Finale Desserterie offers two different menus, one for its retail bakery counter and another for its desserterie with elaborate plated desserts.
Many retail bakeries are beginning to take some cues from bakery cafès, such as Au Bon Pain, and are offering coffee and sandwiches to boost sales.
The formula for bakery success these days is "bakery &," so customers have more than one reason to come in. The trick for each retail baker owner is to determine what that "&" should be.
Being strictly a retail bakery, even one that produces outstanding product, may no longer be enough in today's marketplace. Busy consumers are looking more and more for one-stop shops where they can get more for their time than a traditional retail bakery provides. Many retail bakeries are rising to the challenge. Nearly half of independent fullline retail bakers reported that they offer sandwiches, according to Modern Baking's Retail Bakery Research 2003. A third said they offer on-site dining.
In Boston, Finale Desserterie pairs its bakery business with an upscale dessert concept to capture the crowds in the theater district. In Ann Arbor, Mich., Zingerman's Bakehouse plays on the strength of its bread to build sandwich sales. At Crawford's Bakery & Deli in Indianapolis, bakery is just one of eight parts of a winning formula for profitability.
Here's how these establishments are making the bakery-deli, bakery-dessert or other variations on the theme work.
Zingerman's Bakehouse is an example of slow, careful growth. Zingerman's Bakehouse opened in an industrial area in 1992, as a wholesale bakery and gradually worked into retail. "We grew very organically. First we just had a table and a cash box. Then we had some tables and a cash register. Then in 1996 we actually built walls and had a retail shop," says Amy Emberling, managing partner.
Zingerman's had a ready audience of industrial park workers at lunchtime, so it gradually began to offer sandwiches on its own bread, soup served with its bread, pizza and quiche. "We tried to find items that were related to baking in some way. We made soup because soup and bread and sandwiches go together," she says.
When Zingerman's rolls out a new bread, it introduces it as part of a sandwich first so that customers can try it. Lunch customers often add something sweet to their order¯a brownie or a cookie¯that increases the value of the sale.
The bakehouse remembers its bakery roots and keeps the sandwich business simple. The menu includes only five or six sandwich choices. Zingerman's makes its sandwiches in the morning because many customers stop in to pick up lunch on their way to work. "We don't actually want to be a restaurant," Emberling says. "We try to keep it as simple as possible, because our main focus is bread and pastry."
Meanwhile, across town, the original Zingerman's Deli location enhances its sales with bakery. (Zingerman's locations operate independently but are still part of the same business family.) Bread is a big draw, along with brownies and pastries. Bakery defines the deli's freshness for some customers. "People watch. They will see the bakehouse truck come up to the deli and they'll walk over to get the freshest bread. We get a fresher delivery than anybody in town," says Grace Singleton, managing partner of Zingerman's Deli. "It could be a loaf of pecan raisin, and it's still warm." To maintain that fresh appeal, the deli takes bread deliveries four times a day.
Bakery also boosts deli sales by providing the foundation for sandwiches made with its freshly sliced meats and cheeses.
Rick Crawford of Crawford's Bakery & Deli says he knew as soon as he opened in 1981 that bakery was not enough to compete throughout the business day. Having come from a corporate supermarket background, he could see that bakery did not appeal in enough dayparts, and he began planning new but related ventures.
Raising sales per customer
Deli became part of Crawford's business in 1987, when it opened a bakery-deli. "What that does for your sales is it opens up another section of the day to do business. Then you can do some bundling with that if you work it very carefully," he says. The bakery sells a lot of party cakes, especially for graduations, and along with those cakes, it will sell meat and cheese trays and the buns to go along with them. "Instead of a $50 cake sale you have a $200 party sale," Crawford says.
Crawford's now operates eight businesses under one roof: wedding cakes, specialty cakes, full-line retail bakery, wholesale bakery, coffee shop, eat-in deli, catering, and gourmet dog treats and gifts.
Dog treats? "Believe it or not, that one's got legs. Statistically in Indiana, more houses have dogs than have kids. Follow your demographics. It's an extra sale.
"With all of this stuff, I want to give them as many reasons to stop by my bakery as possible. What I want to do is increase my presence of mind. When they think of me, they should think of more than just a donut. I want them to think of cakes, I want them to think of coffee, I want them to think of special occasions," Crawford says.
The formula for bakery success these days is "bakery &," he adds, so customers have more than one reason to come in. The trick for each retail bakery owner is to determine what that "&" should be. Crawford has seen bakery paired with flowers, with health food, with gifts and collectibles, and, of course, with deli. "People need to focus on what works for them," he says.
"There are some pure bakeries that are doing exceptionally well, but their numbers are decreasing," Crawford adds. But do not jump headlong into the "&" part of the business, he advises. Major changes in business focus should be well planned and should preferably be accompanied by facility changes, such as a new location, redecorating or other renovations that will help sell the customer on the new concept. "You've got to do something to tell the customer that you're new," he says. Retail bakeries also need to stop thinking of the supermarket or bakery or restaurant down the street as their competition. The real competitor is time, he says. Consumers do not have much of it, and they are going to favor places that fill more than one need. If they can come in to pick up a special occasion cake and get lunch while they are at it, they are going to remember that convenience.
Finale Desserterie, now with two locations (in Boston's theater district and in Harvard Square), got its start as a late-night alternative to bars and clubs. Part retail bakery and part dessert restaurant, Finale rings up sales throughout the day thanks to its dual approach. Customers walk up to the retail counter and walk out with baked products. In the sit-down desserterie, they order upscale desserts that are plated before their eyes, and enjoy the desserts with port, dessert wine and champagne. "Our concept is unique. There's really nobody out there doing exactly the kind of thing we're doing," says Paul Conforti, president and co-founder.
Customers who step into the desserterie find an 80-seat restaurant with velvet chairs, candlelight and linen napkins. A pastry stage in the middle of the room, with mirrors above it, lets the customer enjoy the preparation of their chosen dessert. Best sellers include molten chocolate cake baked to order, crème brulee, and Creme Carnivale, a Napoleon made with puff pastry and bittersweet caramel mousse served with a sweet berry compote.
One of the challenges has been helping customers understand the difference between the retail bakery and the desserterie, says Kim Moore, co-founder. As Finale opens new locations in Boston and beyond, it may physically separate the entrances to bakery and desserterie.
Sometimes people see something in the retail display case and they expect to have it brought to their table. If the customer is adamant, the desserterie will honor the request, Moore says. But the desserterie also sends them a free molten chocolate cake so they can experience the difference between baked products and full-blown desserts. "They go crazy for it and then they might order a couple of other desserts off the plated menu. They go on their way feeling very much educated and very appreciative of what we've done for them," Moore says. The molten chocolate cake is "our best piece of education and our best marketing. It's a little bit addicting." Persuading customers to enjoy plated desserts also leads to a higher order value.
Is the desserterie concept right for everyone? Conforti does not think so. A suburban bakery would not have the same late-night foot traffic. Finale Desserterie enjoys a busy trade in businesspeople during the day, keeping its retail side busy, and brings in theatergoers and diners at night. "Just to extend their hours into evening might not be right for every bakery," Conforti says. A traditional bakery might want to try appealing to the lunch crowd first.
Sandwiches and coffee
Sandwiches are a natural fit for bakeries, which can cross-market their own breads in the lunchtime daypart when bakery traffic is down. Michael Farrand, director of marketing and sales of deli at Hormel Foods, says to start slow. "Many are tempted to go from 'zero to Panera' as quickly as possible," he says. "My recommendation is to start slow, and start with lunch. Traditional sandwiches, like ham, turkey and roast beef, are a great way to get comfortable with the selling proposition of the sandwich. Menu no more than five sandwiches for speed, efficiency and training purposes, which makes it easier for the operator."
Farrand also recommends that bakeries take a "fresh approach" to the deli business. "Customers love to see their sandwich prepared. It's like unwrapping a present made especially for them. Stay away from pre-made sandwiches, especially in a bakery cafÈ environment. Remember that the rest of your established bakery business depends on successful execution in the sandwich. Stale or poorly made sandwiches will have carry-over impact on the business you have worked hard to build."
Still not sure the bakery-deli move is the right one? Retail bakeries may want to start with a baby step instead of a giant leap, focusing on an often overlooked part of their business: coffee. Ho-hum coffee could be costing sales. "Retail bakeries have become tired of having people come in and buy the baked goods and then walk down the street to the coffeehouse to buy their coffee," says Mike Furguson, spokesman for the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
The danger is that the customer could decide to get coffee and baked products elsewhere. "You want the customer walking in empty-handed and walking out with the baked good and the coffee," he says. The keys are to buy right (on quality, not price) from a local or regional roaster, and brew right. Grind it immediately before brewing, brew, then hold and serve in airpots instead of on burners. It is worth the time it takes to get it right, Furguson says. "If you can pick up the coffee customer, the customer who is buying their coffee somewhere else, you've gained business."
Whether you're talking bakery-deli, bakery-desserts, bakery cafè, or some other concept, gaining business is what it's all about.