AKRON, Ohio -- West Point Market here is still reaping the benefits of starting from scratch, despite big investments in labor and equipment.
The payoff is sales, according to Abby Fox, bakery manager. Indeed, as the upscale single-unit retailer evolved over the last three and a half years from a frozen dough operation to a 95% from-scratch bakery now, it watched bakery sales climb 55% from the end of 1991 to the end of last year.
Fox discussed the effects of format changes on bread in the in-store bakery during a seminar at the recent Retail Bakers of America trade show held in San Francisco, and afterward in an interview with SN.
Profitability is good, too, Fox told SN. Even though the operation is labor-intensive and the company has increased its bakery retail sales staff by 50%, the net is just about the same as it was when the company was using mostly frozen dough, Fox said.
"Our labor costs are at 34%, and 20% of that is retail associates," she said. She stressed that the increased volume brought by the move to scratch has necessitated a large and well-trained service staff. The bakery is now 99% full-service, she said.
"On a Saturday, we have 12 associates on. They work overlapping shifts, but at any time during the day there will probably be seven people on the floor," she said.
The independent retailer, known for its customer service, makes a point of getting employees to interact with customers. "There's been no new emphasis put on suggestive selling or customer service. Our associates have always talked to our customers," Fox said.
"When we first started making from-scratch bread, we'd give whole batches to the employees to take home. They loved that and it created excitement in the store. That sort of thing carries over to the customer," Fox said.
Even discounting labor and production costs, the initial investment to go to scratch was big, she recalled. Equipment purchases alone topped $60,000. And the more skilled production staff costs the company more in wages.
But a higher retail price for unique breads and rolls helps pay the bills, Fox said. From bread loaf prices that once ranged from $1 to $1.30 for baked-off products, West Point's breads are now priced $3.19 to $4.19 a loaf -- and there will be another price hike in June, Fox said.
"We're fortunate that we're in Akron instead of New York City or the West Coast, because the unique variety of breads we can produce with a scratch bakery stand out here. People are willing to pay for them because they're different and the quality is excellent," she said.
She said some of the bakery's items are destination products, such as a specialty roasted red pepper bread, which has red peppers and cracked black pepper.
"And it looks so good. There's a lot of color to it. If someone comes in to buy something else, they're apt to buy it. Remember, bakery sales are 80% impulse buys," Fox said. Sales per customer are up substantially in the bakery, she added.
West Point's ability to create a variety of unique products -- which wasn't possible with frozen dough -- keeps customers interested, Fox said. "You can't buy our products down the street. Our only competition is our own commercial aisle and that's just about none at all," she added.
In a recent study of store volume, the company found that the bakery is second only to the produce department when it comes to foot traffic. And the bakery's contribution to total store sales is 9%, up from 6% when it was a frozen-dough operation, Fox said.