STAKE IN BAKE

DAYTON, Ohio -- When Dorothy Lane Market here added a new $60,000 French hearth oven to their Washington Square store here, their primary reason was to keep up with growing consumer demand for their popular artisan breads. But an unintended consequence has been the opportunity to devote more time and space to holiday merchandising."The new oven allowed us to grow," said bakery/deli manager Scott Fox.

DAYTON, Ohio -- When Dorothy Lane Market here added a new $60,000 French hearth oven to their Washington Square store here, their primary reason was to keep up with growing consumer demand for their popular artisan breads. But an unintended consequence has been the opportunity to devote more time and space to holiday merchandising.

"The new oven allowed us to grow," said bakery/deli manager Scott Fox. "We were just maxed out with the oven and floor space we had available here before; there was no way we were going to grow anymore, especially through the holidays. We were going 24 hours around the clock and we still couldn't get enough stuff on the shelves."

With the period from mid-October through year's end the best time of the year for the Dorothy Lane Market bakery, the changes in item production and store merchandising come fast and furiously.

Now that Fox is baking artisan breads on his French hearth, his bakery staff are able to use the rack ovens to create an increased variety of holiday and seasonal products. The bakery production and selling space has also been expanded and renovated, which gives them more room to promote and sell, too.

Dorothy Lane Market's new cake shop manager, Julie Van Pelt, is in charge of the decorating and merchandising. New on the job, she's in the midst of planning for the year-end holiday season that includes the three major events -- as well as a new holiday that is popular locally, celebrated in mid-October, called "Sweetest Day."

For the romance-related day, the bakery is promoting 4- and 8-inch heart-shaped cakes, and cross merchandises them in the front of the store on large tables along with floral arrangements and baskets. Van Pelt said the ability to locate the display at the immediate front of the store helps drive impulse purchases, especially for such a minor holiday.

"This is not a big holiday like Valentine's Day, and this kind of display right up front reminds them about it." In decorating the heart-shaped cakes, she's stayed away from the pinks and reds of Valentine's Day, and used more of the earth tones of fall. The results have been good. "The table was just about empty when I came in today," Van Pelt said.

After Sweetest Day, Van Pelt switched over to the pre-Halloween display.

While Halloween is only about the fifth most popular bakery holiday at DLM -- Fox says Christmas, Thanksgiving, graduations and Valentine's Day are the top four performers -- the store will still do well. "The store in general does well for Halloween, but it's becoming more adult. We're selling party breads and cakes for adult parties, as well as the kid's items."

"We're real busy from the Wednesday before through Saturday with the party-type breads and Halloween cookies and cakes," said Fox. With the store's upscale clientele, he's able to move premium sweets as well, like their gourmet caramel apples, an apple dipped in caramel, white chocolate, dark chocolate and rolled in pecans. The price: $5.99 each.

Large iced and decorated character cookies -- large Frankenstein heads, ghosts, pumpkins and bats selling for $1.29 -- are popular, as are the perennially child-pleasing decorated cupcakes that Van Pelt is also packaging in trays of 15 with a cake for parties. The cupcakes sell for about $1, the cake for $6.99, so the highly colorful and decorated platter at $21.99 makes for a substantial ring. "Kids just love these," she said. "The more colors and jimmies you can use, the better it is."

For the two weekends before Halloween, Van Pelt set up two displays -- one in the front of the store and another in the bakery. In addition to the cupcake/cake platters decorated for Halloween, the displays held giant pumpkin cakes and other cakes decorated with Halloween scenes set on a rack in front of the store and on the top of the bakery selling case.

She also decorated the bakery with posters advertising what was being sold there, incorporating "ghoulish" words to describe the specialty items sold there. She's also used some pumpkins, seasonal flowers from the in-store floral department and banners reading "Happy Halloween."

"This store is great because they like to things uniquely," said Van Pelt. "And the customers here want that uniqueness and they don't care what it's going to cost." Van Pelt is pushing a pumpkin cake this year, a double layer 8-inch cake that is carved and iced to look like a rounded pumpkin. At $16.99, the price is enough to ward off many bakery managers, but the Dorothy Lane customer apparently has deep pockets.

"Customers here don't want something they'll get at a traditional supermarket store, and they're willing to pay for it," said Van Pelt.

It's not hard to figure that a store with a $60,000 bread oven does well with breads, too, and as more and more adults are holding Halloween parties, DLM is able to increase bread sales, as well. Two-pound round pumpernickels with dips and the "Ultimate Sandwich Bread,' a braided bread ring topped with coarse salt and rye that is cross merchandised in the deli with specialty sandwich party trays, are big sellers, Fox said.

Fox eschews the gimmicky holiday breads that are dyed with food colors in seasonal hues. "We're more of an all-natural bakery, especially with our bread lines," he said. "We use no preservatives or artificial anything in our artisan breads. I won't do that to our breads, but we will do loaves in unique shapes and sizes for the holidays."

The switch to Thanksgiving merchandising will begin right after Halloween, when customers turn more toward pies and breads and away from cakes, said Fox and Van Pelt.

"We really push pumpkin pies, rolls, novelties like turkey cookies, and some pumpkin cookies," said Fox.