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Making Over the Bakery—Without Breaking the Bank

BakeMag.com, April 15, 2010
by Baking Buyer Staff

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Television viewers have seen the makeover trend on shows such as the ABC network’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for years. Worthy families plead their cases, and a team of experts swoop in to bestow a big-budget makeover onto the winning home.

Last year, General Mills and the Retail Bakers of America association teamed up for the Merchandising Makeover: Pillsbury Bakery Edition contest. But unlike the Hollywood-style makeovers, the teams consisted of RBA and Pillsbury representatives working within a $5,000 budget to help bakers implement reasonable and attainable improvements to their store fronts.

The contest was open to all RBA members, who were asked to write an original essay explaining how their bakery would benefit from the makeover, and the entries were judged on three main criteria: passion, vision and opportunity.

Of the entries, two winners were chosen — Johnson’s Bakery in Duluth, MN, and Lubeley’s Bakery in St. Louis, MO. “Both were businesses that had been in existence for a long time,” says RBA president Lynn Schurman, who led both makeover teams. “They both had visions to grow their businesses, but they hadn’t done any major remodeling for a while, and I got the feeling that they needed a little jumpstart to make the changes they needed.”

A Tale of Two Bakeries
Scott Johnson, co-owner of Johnson’s Bakery, almost didn’t enter. But then he took a step back and thought about other successful bakeries, and how updated their shops are.
Johnson’s is one of the oldest bakeries in the Duluth area, and he calls their operation old-fashioned. “In order for us to continue to serve our customers, we really needed to have a new look and kind of update everything to help keep us viable,” Johnson says. “We needed to have a reason for people to stop in and see us.” He almost let the deadline go by before he finally decided that it couldn’t hurt to enter. 

Sue Lubeley Suari, cake decorator for Lubeley’s Bakery, entered the contest because their store, where they have been located since 1982, needed new fixtures and was looking for new ideas to enliven the 72-year-old business. Lubeley’s is the oldest family-owned bakery in the St. Louis area; it was founded by her mom and dad and is now owned by her brother Bob Lubeley and sister, Helen Lubeley Murray. Their 96-year-old mother, Helen Lubely, still comes in to greet customers five out of the six days they are open during the week.

Lubely Suari’s vision for the bakery was to capture a new generation’s attention. “We’re getting a lot of younger clientele who aren’t used to a full-service bakery,” she says. “What we wanted to do was capture their attention when they come in, so they see things they might not have seen at a specialty place.”

Small Changes Make a Big Difference
In addition to the $5,000 General Mills and the RBA awarded the bakeries a weekend crew to implement the makeovers. But the crews didn’t just come in and start making changes as they saw fit. Both winners voiced the changes they wanted based on their visions.

“With each of them, we really started with a blank piece of paper,” says Michael Boull, General Mills associate channel manager. “We really wanted the store to be made over in the eyes of the bakers themselves, rather than dictating any vision of ours,” he says.

What the bakers learned was that, when they took a step back and shifted the focus away from the back of the store, they could make truly impactful changes with a relatively small budget in a short time.

“There were a lot of little things that didn’t cost a ton of money, but that gave us an essence,” says Johnson. “Just a few decorating tips for around the store—redoing different display pans to give a different look and pictures on the walls and things,” he says.

Sue Lubeley Suari also saw a big difference with small changes. “I like how they painted everything to coordinate,” she says. Schurman had noticed that Lubeley’s had incorporated about five different colors throughout the bakery. “We brought everything back to a blue, yellow and white theme. Those little touches made a world of difference,” she says.
“It gave us a fresh, modern look,” Lubeley Suari says.

Simply changing the display shelves in the center of the store also made a world of difference at Lubeley’s. The old shelves were more than five feet tall, and now the sight and vision for customers is much more open. This proved even more useful at January’s “grand reopening,” which drew a crowd of more than 500 people.  When the customers were packed into the shop, they could still get a glimpse of the product and pricing.

The biggest challenge at both bakeries was prioritizing the makeover vision and needs within the context of a limited budget. The main lesson both bakeries learned was that big changes can be simply made just by changing perspective.

Bakers are too often so busy producing and running the business that they don’t have time to look at the bakery through the customers’ eyes. “One of the things we challenge bakers to do at the Pillsbury Bakery Institute workshops is to go in the bakery through the front door,” Boull says.

As the RBA president and as a bakery owner herself, Lynn Schurman was able to share perspective with the Lubeleys that they hadn’t thought of, says Lubeley Suardi.

“As a baker, you want the product to sell itself,” Johnson says. “But it’s not necessarily the product that sells, it’s the presentation and how it’s perceived by people,” he says. 

Long-Term Results
Although the makeovers were implemented in about one weekend each, they sparked bigger changes and more long-term visions for both bakeries.

The Lubeleys were able to expand the store by building an additional dining area and incorporating a wedding cake consultation area. This also came in handy during the grand reopening, as it gave more space to fit the patrons. So much space, in fact, that two wedding cake consultations successfully took place during the festivities.

The Lubeleys now have long-term plans. “This has opened our eyes to see other changes we’d like to see in the future,” Lubeley Suardi says. She plans to take a look at the store front every three years, and look at the customers to see what they’re seeing and how they’re using the bakery. “We’ve learned that change is good—and customers will notice.”

In addition to the $5,000 budgeted makeover, Johnson was inspired to make additional improvements to his bakery. He installed new lighting and replaced his floors with ceramic tile—an important change during a harsh Minnesota winter, because they simply mop up the mud and sleet that gets tracked into the store, instead of having to clean carpeting and rugs.
“Now as I look at it, I would say the makeover is never really finished,” Johnson says.

“We’ve kind of moved on with this thing, but it’s given me more reason to be ever-evolving, to look at how we can do things a little differently and how we can change some things. I don’t know that we’re ever going to just sit back and let it be anymore.”
General Mills and the RBA are now accepting entries for the 2009 Merchandising Makeover: Pillsbury Edition contest. For more information on how to enter, please see page X of Industry News.

Top Five Merchandising Tips from the Pillsbury Bakery Institute
For bakeries looking to update their retail space, the Pillsbury Bakery Institute offers the following low-cost merchandising tips:
Make your products jump off the shelf. Clearly mark products in display cases with professional-looking signage.
Think of your bakery as an “edible gift shop.” Keep grab-and-go items by the counter for convenience, impulse, and easy gift ideas.
Keep bakery cases looking full. Rotate fresh products to the front of the case throughout the day.
Remind customer of your signature items.  Communicate this through brochures, flyers, samples, and special features and promotions.
Keep your store-front clean and inviting. A fresh coat of paint goes a long ways in creating that welcoming environment.

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