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Where are you getting your advice?

Over these past few days, I've noticed quite a bit of emphasis on 'solutions.' Suppliers are devoting time and research to develop solutions and ideas for bakery managers to implement on the store level. These suppliers have developed some nifty strategies, too. One that seems genius in its simplicity is the repurposing of single, basic bakery products for multiple, often quite disparate, purposes.

The baker/supplier partnership is a fantastic resource for the in-store bakery manager looking for the next trend, the smartest way to implement a new product, etc. But these bakery managers have to be careful not make the mistake of becoming too reliant on their suppliers' suggestions.

At a roundtable discussion of several prominent in-store bakery directors and managers held during the IDDBA, one voice refreshingly answered that the next idea they'd come up with, the next trend they would pursue, would likely come from the store's customers. After a few days of hearing about all of the impressive solutions coming from suppliers, I was struck by the strategy.

Suppliers are reservoirs of information about what is working here, what isn't working there, and why. Most see a spectrum of different strategies as they work across wide regional swaths, and they follow changes closely. This is why their solutions are so valuable; many have precedent having worked elsewhere.

But in most cases, nobody has their finger more on the pulse of their customers than those who oversee the bakeries every day. Be sure to use those eyes and ears, and be sure these folks are a lively part of the discussion about what might be next, and what will work in your specific, individual demographic. What worked elsewhere won't necessarily work for you. And what hasn't worked elsewhere could be tailor-made for your market.

As another side to this coin, some suppliers I've spoken with have noticed, to their frustration, that an in-store bakery director will need to know where else it is working.

Sure that information is pertinent, but 'Who else is doing it?' shouldn't have much bearing on what works in your market, at least not so much that it would be a determining factor in whether or not you try the product. Also, it's an extension of the 'copycat economy' I blogged about below. Waiting to see who else is doing something is a strategy of coattail riding, and does nothing for distinguishing your brand. It might be safe bet in the short term, but it doesn't seem to be a wise long-term philosophy.

Suppliers want to work with you. They have some exciting ideas, too. But those making decisions for your bakery shouldn't overlook their employees and the customers themselves as fountains of information. A baker can't go wrong with a healthy balance of advice and suggestions coming from a little of each. Armed with these multiple perspectives, you can be confident enough to make a bold move when warranted, and not wait for some other guy to make it first.

For more articles on in-store baking and the baking industry as a whole, check Modern Baking [3] and Baking Management [4].