The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

We're new at this...

kevroy's picture
kevroy

We're new at this...

...who do we see about becoming professionals?

It took a frantic amount of organization, physical labor and nagging, lots and lots of firm, polite, incessant nagging to get everything done. There was wiring and plumbing and drywall, there were floors that needed reinfoncing, a foundation that needed shoring up. Floor plans had to be drawn up for Labor and Industry codes that needed addressing and inspecting, not to mention health codes with their ensuing inspections. There were work benches and walls and shelving to be built, painting, paperhanging and restoration of the beautiful but crumbling mullioned windows that made the shop what it was.

Equipment was purchased and installed, most of it used, most of it needing some special attention. We spent the final week doing basic prep work and overseeing the removal of several dead and dying trees.

In fewer than ninety days from the time we closed in the real estate and business loan we removed the "coming soon" sign, turned the lights on and clicked the key in the lock to open the door of our bake shop.

Nothing happened.

Comments

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

KevRoy,

Ouch!  Nothing happened = door wouldn't open?  Or nothing happened = nobody showed up?  Either way, it had to be disheartening.

I'm impressed by the tremendous amount of work you poured into readying your shop for business.  And by the guts it took to turn your dream into a physical reality.  I hope that your business grows quickly.

If your (potential) customers aren't coming to you, maybe you can go out and hunt them down.  In a nice way, of course.  You could:

- set up a table out front (weather permitting) and hand out free samples

- rent a booth at a local farmer's market

- cajole restaurateurs into serving your breads and rolls; maybe even customize some recipes so that they can offer an "exclusive"

- finagle some shelf space or room for a kiosk in local supermarkets

- set up a deal to provide local realtors with a "welcome" or "thank you" basket of your goods for their buyers

- sponsor a team in a youth league

- coupons!

- advertise, advertise, advertise

It's just possible that some of those ideas might actually work, you know.  Anything that gets your name in front of people will help boost sales.  More importantly, anything that gets your product into peoples' hands and mouths will boost sales.

Best of luck!

PMcCool

sewwhatsports's picture
sewwhatsports

Where are you located and where is the closest competitor to your business?  You need to see what your compition is offering and then do a bit better, either by price, convienence or service or a combination of the 3.  I agree with all the suggestions that PM offered.  You need to get yourself out there for the public to hear about you.  Do you have a local radio station?  Take some fresh baked goods to the morning staff.  They will often give a public thank you and tell that you just opened.  You might be able to do some free giveaways through the radio station in exchange for the free adverising.  Call up the local men's and/or women's clubs that do lunch meetings and offer your baked goods at a very low introductory price and then give a coupon to get them into the bakery. Call the local paper and ask them to do a feature on your new business in town. And in the article say that anyone that comes into the bakery will receive "xxxx" (what ever you choose)as a free get acquainted gift.  If your local supermarket does not have an in store bakery that does the type of breads and pastries you are doing, talk to them about having them sell your merchandise.  Even if they start with just a few dozen, it will grow and people will start to see your name.  Lastly, wear a jacket or something that has the name/address/phone number of your bakery embroidered on it.  Walking around town would then be free advertising.

I was a manager for a retail store for 3 years.  There are lots of free ways to get your name out to the public.  And remember to call all the local phone books to make sure your bakery is listed free.  They will try to sell you yellow page advertising and that will be a decision you will make in the course of time. Keep plugging at it, you will be successful.  Remember, sometimes you need to educate the public as to why they need your baked goods.

Good luck and let us know how things go... 

Rena in Delaware

kevroy's picture
kevroy

...lying on the couch, recovering from a bit of surgery when my wife rushed in and announced "The bakery is for sale!"

We swung into action. Traci began by refinancing the house in order to free up some cash for a down payment while I began badgering the real estate agent into selling us the property for far less than the original asking price.

The shabby, quaint little building with the big windows had never been a bakery, it had been built as a summer cottage in 1910, became a tea room in the 1930's, a gift shop in the 40's, a candle shop in the 50's, and an antique shop up untill about 1990, when it closed for a decade or so. I'd spotted it in 1979, remarking how like a European pastry shop it appeared; we just called it "the bakery".

Taking full advantage of the seller's foot dragging we worked on a business plan for the bank. In our cover letter we stated that the reason for going into trade is not to do something for the community or to educate the public, or to do for a living what one loves, it is to make money and stay in business.

Our loan officer was impressed.

There were maddening delays with the title insurance but we used that time to negotiate with the contractors doing the work on the building. I purchased the book "Breads from the LaBrea Bakery" and began learning about natural leaven, and made a starter. In the back of the book was a reference to the Bread Baker's Guild of America. Hmmmm...they seemed to have the same philosophy about bread baking as we had about cooking. We joined.

Asking the advice of people we knew who either were in or were peripheral to the baking business was another ongoing project. The first question we put to each of them was 'why do so many bakerys go bankrupt?'. Every single person had a different answer: location, products, cleanliness, unions, ignorance; there must have been more than a score or more to go around and around and around.

kevroy's picture
kevroy

...you will know that an eerie silence preceeds the actual event.

At 6AM that first day we unlocked the door, ready for business, with Jane (Traci's mom)steady at the counter. Seven o'clock came and still there were no customers. At 7:30 someone came in, Traci's sister. Then someone else: the contractor who had built the front steps. Unanimuos consent within the shop questioned whether the area really needed or wanted a bakery. Then someone, somewhere, (not us) sent out an e-mail. By 10AM we were innundated. Two newspapers had come and gone and patrons jammed the place. The till filled up.

It was exhilarating and fun. After all, we were no strangers to long hours under extreme stress; we'd owned a catering service for nine years. In addition to that, Traci had worked the front of the house for a fine country inn or two, and I'd been a chef in French restaurants for decades. But we unwittingly started out in the baking business with a twenty quart mixer for me and a FIVE quart mixer for Traci. It'd worked just fine in all those fancy restaurants, hadn't it?

That first day I worked untill three in the morning and opened again before dawn, a phenomenon that instantly became my permanent work schedule. The first four months in business I worked twenty hours a day, seven days a week. Traci worked twelve hours a day, afterward going home to take care of our three kids and the big old farm house we live in.

Then the day arrived when I came to, shivering uncontrolably on the stockroom floor, completely disoriented. I vaguely recall a lot of angry customers who didn't get their sticky buns that morning, but it didn't matter. I still had the best job of my life, even without a paycheck.

A woman came in and told us that the sourdough she'd purchased was so good it actually had her family sitting down to dinner for the first time in months. When you hear things like that, renumeration becomes almost irrelevant. (But not quite.)

It certainly helped to ease the workload when Traci got the 20 quart mixer and I got an 80 quart machine three weeks after opening, but other businesses were pressing us for wholesale artisan breads; retail customers kept multiplying even though it was one of the snowiest winters on record. I swear they were arriving by dog sled.

Then summer hit. Hundreds of expensive homes in nearby communities filled up with Yuppies, nearly doubling our sales. By then we had acquired a bit of savvy and a couple of freezers, and hired on some help. We paid orselves one small salary, less than half of what a chef makes in a French restaurant.

Thanksgiving was the first big holiday kickoff, with one of our helpers quitting at just the right moment. Then Christmas came, along with the guy who gave us four days notice to fill sixty extra large baskets with all manner of breads and treats, wrapped and tied with huge bows.

We closed for the first week of January.

After examining the books, we decided that wholesaling, for us at least, was only slightly more attractive than self immolation. The shop was set up to make money from retail sales. Our second year focused on chopping costs and improving the quality of some of our breads and pastries.

The improvement of our semolina bread is a good example. It lacked oven spring, the crust was leathery and the flavor boring. After some research, I decided to use a biga preferment, give the semolina flour a soaking before mixing, and adding a bit of honey for complexity. The new loaves looked like flexing biceps tearing through shirt sleeves, with deeply fermented flavor and very loud crusts.

Increased saled to our existing customers will be our next challenge, offering a line of frozen par-baked loaves for finishing at home.

So here we go, careening head first into our fourth year. We're still barking our shins on the eighty quart bowls and thanking God every day for it.

Any regrets? Well, I don't know. One thing is for sure, we'll never do this again. Unless, of course, we do.

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Someone posted a link to this on a new thread: I read it with earnest interest.  But, Kevroy, you haven't given us an update as to what happened next.  It was nice to hear about a bakery's success; the bakery that opened up a few years ago in our town is still limping along (bad products and customer service, if you ask me) so it's nice to hear about someone whose success took only a few hours!

SOL