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Step Away from the Bench
bakemag.com, July, 13, 2012
by Staff

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Like many bakery owners, Cheri Kovacic admits to having a problem with stepping away from the bench. Her Wichita, KS, business, Cheri’s Bakery celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012. She’s baked and decorated with one hand and managed the business with the other for every single year. “Now I’m trying to step back and work on the business instead of in the business,” says the veteran baker, who holds a bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition from Kansas State University. “But it’s hard. My favorite part of the day is baking. I started with a KitchenAid, mixing 100 grams of flour. Now we use an 80-quart mixer. I love formulating.”

Still, she recognizes that her bakery has reached the point where the business needs a boost from the top. It’s time for her to accept the dreaded “d” word — to delegate. So she has appointed leaders in every area of her business — cakes, cookies, etc. — to be the watchdogs of everyday operations involving the bakery’s 16 employees. Kovacic’s job will be to take a long, hard look from above at where the bakery needs to be heading.

“My goal for the next year is pies,” Kovacic says of one key project on the front burner. “We do 9-inch pies in different flavors: lemon, cherry, blueberry, and lemon and chocolate cream. But I’d like to do more pies,” she says. “There’s nothing better than a pretty pie.”

Marketing is another initiative. Cheri’s Bakery recently started a project called Make & Take Cookie Kits. Once a month, from 9 to 11 a.m. on a Saturday, Kovacic invites children to come into her bakery for cookie decorating sessions using special kits that contain six un-iced cookies and six small containers of royal icing and decorations. The sessions are free, but plenty of parents wind up buying Make & Take Cookie Kits to take home. The kits sell for $12.95. “It’s become a very popular event,” she says. “We had 39 kids participate the first time, and 51 the next month.” She’s learning a valuable lesson that if you can hook the kids, the parents will follow.

Talk about economy, and Kovacic will smile and talk about the fact that 2010 — their worst year ever — is firmly in their rear-view mirror. “Once we hit March (2011), sales have taken back off. I’m very hopeful now,” she says.

Now they are looking tighter at numbers related to ingredient costs and plan to install a computer system for managing inventory and sales. Kovacic has another valuable ally on the home front: her husband, Dave Kovacic, who is director of technical service for Bay State Milling and co-owner of Cheri’s Bakery.

Documenting processes and organizing efficient systems are the order of the new day. “I like systems and using spreadsheets,” Cheri Kovacic says. “I like to figure out the best methods that work for us. It’s never easy, but it’s necessary for me to step away from the bench.”

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