About a week before Christmas, as our family scurried to finish holiday decorations and shop for Christmas eve dinner with extended family, we learned that our neighborhood bakery was closing. Flourtown Bakery—a moniker that speaks to the flour mills that once dotted the Philadelphia-area landscape that our town’s name represents—would close shop by January 1. We were saddened by the news—and not just because it made a good pound cake.
The move told us that the bakery had succumbed to competition instead of evolving alongside it. Flourtown Bakery was a mom-and-pop outfit—like many independently owned jewelry stores—so it struggled against some of the same business difficulties that JCK readers encounter, including chain stores with more convenient hours and sometimes more competitive pricing. On the same street as the bakery are Acme and Giant supermarkets, both of which have their own decent bakeries. My mother in law, Gretchen, purchased a half-sheet cake from Acme for $40, and last September, I bought a half-sheet cake from Flourtown Bakery for $50 for my husband’s surprise 50th birthday party. Giant, meanwhile, has recently undergone a renovation and built a freestanding store double the size of its previous one. The supermarkets, of course, have more convenient hours than Flourtown Bakery. Do you see some parallels?
To be fair, Flourtown Bakery did make an effort to compete. It was featured in a recent episode of the Food Network’s Save My Bakery, which subjected it to evaluation by a consultant who made changes to the menu and the interior space. And while that consultant may have helped to make an entertaining TV episode—complete with barking orders at the beleaguered shop owner—Gretchen and I found some of her decisions to be illogical.
For example, she cut back on case displays, removed a refrigerated case of ice teas and milk, and plopped a café table with two chairs at one end of the shop. The bakery didn’t offer coffee or tea, so now no drinks were available. Who wants to choke down a cupcake without a beverage? To me it’s like a jeweler who sells only loose stones with no mountings—no practical way to enjoy them. The stones are still pretty, but they can’t be appreciated fully.
Perhaps a better move would have been to survey customers—the folks who are paying the bills. A small business can know only what its customer base wants when it—not some outside consultant—taps into their opinions. Sure, other opinions can be helpful, but not at the cost of ignoring clients. Just as JCK’s best consultants are you, the reader, so were Flourtown Bakery’s regular customers the best consultants to query. I wish I had gotten a questionnaire from my go-to source for cake. I would have told them to:
–Install a self-serve coffee station.
–Get a website. (It has just a Facebook fan page.)
–Offer a book of recipes.
–Collaborate with other local businesses, like restaurants for dessert, and even the Acme for a special selection of baked goods that Acme doesn’t offer.
–Offer a baked-goods delivery club where once a month, anyone within a 15-mile radius could have a standing order of treats delivered to their doorstep.
–Create a fun factor through selections named after local residents or establishments.
–Survey its customers year-round.
How would your customers advise you if you asked?
In September, my husband, Jeff, blew out the candles on his last birthday cake ever from Flourtown Bakery.
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