LIVONIA, Mich. -- Anthony's Old World Market, a new supermarket here, has focused its attention on service and quality in the bakery as a way to build sales storewide.
The new store opened in March and was created around fresh products and service, said the owners, who also operate Oakridge Markets.
The Anthony's unit is designed to serve as the company's model for future retail development, the owners said. And within that model, the format's thrust in freshness and service is deepest in the bakery, according to Ron Russell, deli and bakery merchandiser for Oakridge Markets and Anthony's Old World Market.
"As long as we give the customers here service, quality and a fair price, we're going to move some tonnage," said Russell in an interview with SN.
"I think the bakery will be a stronghold of the business here," said Russell, a former director of deli and bakery for Foodland Distributors, also based here.
"We've gone back to a strange thing called service, and the consumer loves it. People see the quality of the products we're carrying in our service cases and they're not even stopping to ask a price."
The department is set up for brisk business at the service counter, which is more than 20 feet long. On weekends, that means it is staffed by a baker plus a sales staff of five associates, all in the bakery of a 15,000-square-foot store.
"We offered customers something that's been lacking for years," Russell said. "And we try to train our people to be knowledgeable about those products."
Cards listing ingredients for all products are kept handy behind the bakery counter so associates can tell customers, for instance, what is in the specialty breads carried by Anthony's.
The store also does self-service merchandising for categories such as doughnuts, pies, angel food cakes, dinner rolls and seasonal items like Easter cakes, on four movable tables, each measuring 3 feet by 5 feet, situated in front of the bakery cases.
Store officials said the size of these tables is due to be increased, since the volume moving off of them has been higher than originally anticipated.
Constant customer contact helps make the sales. "We sample all the time," Russell said.
"Our baker gets on the P-A and says, 'This is Baker Bob...We're having a sample-fest back here. Why not come by and try our breads and rolls, and bring the kids back to get a cookie from Baker Bob?"'
Anthony's bakes most of its products in-house, Russell said, with the major exception of bagels, brought in daily by a local bagel baker; eventually the store would like to bake off the bagels in-house, too.
But when choosing the thaw-and-serve products it does carry, the bakery looks for a higher-priced, higher-quality item in a category, rather than a low-priced counterpart.
For example, when the store was first up and running, the thaw-and-serve jumbo cake doughnut that Anthony's carries -- the bakery has no doughnut fryer -- moved at a clip of 300 to 400 dozen in a five-day period, he said.
"People will spend for quality if it's presented right and merchandised right. We're learning every day what this neighborhood likes."
Local consumers have shown a preference for quality sweets, including specialties like baklava, cannoli and some in-store items like peanut-butter brownies and sheet cakes.
"We couldn't not carry those items; the consumer would kill us," Russell said.
Other sweets have proven to be just as popular. "In testing this neighborhood before we opened, we discovered locals have a great sweet tooth, and there's a very good margin in sweet goods," he said.
Though Anthony's stocks many sugar-free and fat-free pies and muffins, "At night they come out for their midnight snacks. In 20 minutes one weeknight, I myself sold $120 of sweet goods."
In another example of quality dictating the assortment decisions in the in-store bakery, when the store opened it carried a frozen-dough muffin, but the department has since moved to a batter mix.
"Since this is the first store we've put together like this, we're going to make a lot of mistakes, but we hope to do twice as many things right."
Russell said he believes Anthony's has correctly organized its crusty-bread program in terms of both product selection and merchandising.
Items in the Uppercrust Bread line, a parbaked program, have been selling so well since the store's opening, that one employee now works full time baking off the bread, from Thursday through Sunday.
The specialty breads are merchandised behind the service counter and priced at more than $3 per loaf. But the breads -- which include multigrain, San Francisco sourdough, sour rye and seeded rye -- have been accepted by local consumers despite the price, Russell said.
The breads may eventually be moved to self-serve, as will other high-volume products that prove themselves over time.
Changing the product mix on the self-service tables and in the service case helps keep the department interesting to the customer, he added.
"We came in here thinking 'We know what they want.' But customers continue to seek enough new products, so that case sizes are growing, as is the product line.