Topping muffins with value-added ingredients has helped grow sales.
Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio may appear like a typical supermarket. But, step behind the scenes into one of Buehler's 4,000-sq.-ft., maple wood-floored bakeries, and you learn quickly that Buehler Food Markets does not operate average in-stores. In their product quality and flexibility, in their personnel investments and in their customer and sales tracking, Buehler's instores operate like independent businesses.
Buehler Food Markets, an 11-unit supermarket chain with stores located in a 30-mile square area about an hour south of Cleveland, is owned and operated by the Buehler family. Dan Buehler, thirdgenerationowner and chief executive officer, has continued Buehler Food Markets' reputation as a progressive independent supermarket chain.
Buehler's customer-focused direction is especially-evident in its 11 in-store bakeries. Product lines vary store to store, and bakery managers are given relatively free reign to merchandise products for their stores' customer needs. “We use no planograms,” says Bakery Merchandiser Roland Krueger.
Lead by Bakery Director Steve Beke, Buehler's in-stores have established proven systems in its management, sales tracking and production that set it apart from many of its competitors. Beke, who received much of his early bakery training in Vienna, Austria, where he grew up, has been Buehler's bakery director for more than 30 years. Much of Buehler's in-store bakery success can be attributed to Beke's easy-going, yet standards-driven, management style. As a classically trained baker, he has established high standards for his bakeries' products and customer service. “I'm a firm believer that unless you have good service, you're better off with no service,” he says.
Key to maintaining bakery standards are Buehler's bakery training programs. The company developed two programs for the in-store bakery department: bakery management training and sales training.
Two bakery training tracks
The bakery management training is a two-year program, which includes a customized correspondence course through the American Institute of Baking, Manhattan, Kan.; apprenticeships at three different Buehlers in-store bakeries; and a hands-on production test similar to that of Certified Master Bakers. Training in different stores not only teaches bakers various production techniques in different bakery settings, but it also allows them to learn how to operate under various management styles, according to Beke.
The sales training program focuses heavily on product knowledge and customer service expectations. Each trainee receives a manual with an extensive list of product descriptions. Sales associates learn about and sample products, so they can confidently sell the items to customers. “We want them to know what they are selling,” Beke says. “They are the last link to customers before they leave the bakery.”
The customer service portion of the training specifies Buehler's standards for sales responsibilities, such as how to handle customer complaints. During their 45-day probationary period, new employees meet with trainers (the head sales person) and bakery managers on a weekly basis where they receive feedback about their performance and are tested on their product and sales knowledge.
Product sampling is a high priority in Buehler's sales strategy, Krueger adds. The in-stores position two glassdomed fixtures for product samples on top of their service cases, so associates are readily available to maintain the samples' freshness and appearance and answer customers' questions.
During high-traffic periods, the bakeries also will actively sample products on the sales floor. Sampling has boosted sales particularly in its artisan bread category, Krueger says. Buehler's in-stores produce artisan breads using a three-day process, which incorporates sponges and bigas. The in-stores' artisan bread line includes about 12 varieties, but to keep production under control, the bakeries usually offer only about four varieties a day.
The bakeries' primary business comes from decorated cakes and gourmet tortes, which account for about 40 percent of bakery sales. Most cakes are produced using a cake mix or scratch European sponge cake. “We make our own French buttercream with a generous helping of vanilla pudding, so it is not so sweet,” Beke says. “It is very smooth.”
Keeping tabs on sales
In-store management knows which products are moving by reviewing reports of scanner data of service and self-service bakery products. Bakery sales staff manning the service cases also collects ample customer information to share with bakery management. “The old way of thinking is: the more product you put into self-service, the less you need a service case,” Beke says. “We see it the opposite: the product you put in the self-serve environment entices customers to come to the counter for other varieties.”
Prices of each product are figured using a computerized costing program, which considers ingredients, administrative costs, packaging, shrink, etc. To factor in labor costs as accurately as possible, Beke organized time studies for each product category. He times how long it takes to produce a product from preparation, scaling and mixing through baking, finishing and packaging. The instores factor in those labor costs to determine the right price for profitable margins.
“We're certainly not the cheapest, but we're very competitive,” Beke says. “If you live by the price, you die by the price.”
Small details differentiate products
Tending to the details comes through in Buehler's production and ingredient choices as well. Buehler's tortes feature premium-quality ingredients, such as real whipped cream, scratch-made marzipan and gourmet chocolate. A boon to the gourmet torte program has been selling the tortes as packaged slices. The two-and four-count packages of torte slices bring the price point down, so customers are more willing to try the tortes, which retail for about $17 as a whole torte.
In the pastry category, Buehler's cream sticks, fried onpremise, have an established following. The cream sticks, long filled and iced donuts, are iced with scratch-made icing and filled with premium chocolate and cream fillings.
Muffins have become Buehler's latest hit with customers. “We sold 86,000 muffins in the first quarter this year,” Krueger says. The muffins, which are merchandised in self-service muffin carts, are part of a frozen bake-and-sell program. To build sales, Buehler's finishes the muffins with donut glaze, drizzled chocolate, cream cheese icing, German chocolate icing, chocolate chips and nuts. The extra toppings make the sale, Krueger adds.
Other production efficiencies include freezing doughs and cake layers and concentrating production of some products in specific bakeries with specialized employees. Cakes are produced twice a week and frozen for cake decorators to pull and finish. Frozen bagel dough is produced in one location and shipped to the other in-stores for baking. One person in each bakery is in charge of finishing the fruit tarts and tortes.
Jay Craig oversees bakery production in Buehler's largest (5,000 sq. ft.) in-store bakery in Wooster, which supplies that location and two other stores. To manage production, Craig divides staff and tasks into “systems,” such as the cake decorating system, bun system and packaging system.
“I like to put a systems specialist in charge,” Craig says. “Everyone is cross trained to take over other systems if needed. But, it is a balance between keeping them interested and letting them specialize for more efficient production.”
Top-of-the-line equipment also contributes to production efficiencies. By investing in better equipment initially, Buehler's management has saved the company more money in the long run. “They do a lot of homework on what they purchase, but they get the best equipment,” Craig says.
Even the bakeries' hard wood floors have been a worthy investment, according to Krueger. The wood floors are easy to clean, reduce the risk of employee injury and create a welcoming work environment.
Continuing with its well-planned investments, Buehler Food Markets will build two more stores during the next five years. Choosing controlled growth, the company focuses more on store improvements than adding unit numbers, Beke says. The in-store bakery department, for example, is developing a new software program to better organize production.
On the personnel side, Beke is retiring. After more than 30 years of establishing clear operations standards in Buehler's in-stores, his leadership also helped to create relatively self-sufficient systems in Buehler's production and sales areas. With continued support from Buehler Food Markets' corporate management and its dedicated well-trained bakery staff, Buehler's in-stores are poised to maintain the company's reputation as a quality bakery operator.
|Glazed donut, 2.5 ozs|| |
|Cream stick, 4.5 ozs|| |
|Cut-out cookie, 3 ozs|| |
|Brownie, 3 ozs.|| |
|Cupcake, filled, 4 ozs.|| |
|Blueberry muffin, 4 ozs.|| |
|Date nut coffee cake, 1 lb.|| |
|Croissant, 2.75 ozs.|| |
|Seedless rye bread, 1 lb|| |
|Whole wheat bread, l lb.|| |
|Sourdough bread, 1 lb|| |
|Jewish rye bread, 1 lb.|| |
|Bagel, 3 ozs.|| |
|Chocolate peanut butter cake, 7 ins.|| |
|Black forest torte, half 8-in. round|| |
|Raspberry torte, half 8-in. round|| |
|Decorated cake, white, 1/4 sheet|| |
|Yellow, 1/4 sheet|| |
|Buttercream icing, 1/4 sheet|| |
Buehler Food Markets at a glance
Headquarters: Wooster, Ohio
Management: Dan Buehler, chief executive officer; Steve Beke, bakery director; Roland Krueger, bakery merchandiser; Jay Craig, production manager, Milltown location
Number of stores/in-store bakeries: 11/11
Store sizes: from about 36,800 sq. ft. to 105, 300 sq. ft.
Average in-store bakery size: 4,000 sq. ft.
Bakery contribution to total store sales: 3%
Production methods: scratch/mix, 65%; frozen dough, 15%; thaw-and-sell, 20%
Product sales breakdown: decorated cakes, 33%; gourmet dessert cakes, 10%; Breads/rolls, 15%; Danish, puff pastries, donuts, 20%; cookies, 7%; muffins, 7%; pies, 3%; other, 5%
Competitors: Wal-Mart, Kroger, Giant Eagle
Bakery distributors: BakeMark, Spindler, Roundy's