Small business lessons learned from watching “Save My Bakery”

Updated cake design has helped bakeries featured on "Save My Bakery" pull in new customers.

Updated cake design has helped bakeries featured on “Save My Bakery” pull in new customers.

The Food Network has a new series that has proven to be addictive to me. It’s called “Save My Bakery” and features award-winning baker and sugar artist Kerry Vincent coming into a failing bakery and making over its menu and premises – and usually giving the owner a much-needed mental refit as well – all in 48 hours. Having watched three episodes so far, I’ve found that the show offers great lessons for small business owners, especially those who are running a business that has been handed down from generation to generation, as bakeries often are.

Here are a few of the small business lessons the show has provided:

• Customer tastes change; so must you. One theme that has run through all the episodes I’ve seen is that a second or third generation of bakers is trying desperately to stay true to the traditions handed down to them, which has completely stifled innovation. America taste buds have changed over the decades, and those recipes that worked when grandpa opened the bakery no longer work, but yet the current generation has clung to them. The same goes with styles of cake decorating. Those, too, have changed dramatically and yet many of the products in the failed bakeries that Kerry Vincent visits look like they are from the 1950s or ‘60s.

It is one thing to want to honor the legacy you’ve been given in your family owned business; it is quite another to drive that business into the ground by failing to stay current with changing customer tastes. The sad thing about the bakeries featured in this show is that in almost every case there is a younger generation waiting in the wings who have tried to innovate, only to have these efforts throttled by a stubborn older generation. Make sure this isn’t happening in your business.

• Don’t assume you know how your customers feel about your products; get real feedback. The owners always balk when Vincent does a taste test and then gives them ideas on how to improve their products. They all claim their customers love their products just the way they are. So she calls their bluff by inviting people from the neighborhood into do taste tests, with predictable negative results.

These owners should have realized that while few people are going to tell you to your face that they no longer like your product, falling sales are telling you just that. Plummeting revenues should have been a wake-up call to these bakery owners long before Vincent walked in their door, but somehow they failed to see this truth. To avoid going down this route, figure out how to get genuine customer feedback on a regular basis.

• Keep your inventory under control. This is very simple for a bakery; if you have a lot of stuff left over at the end of each day, you’re doing something wrong. In this week’s episode of “Save My Bakery,” the bakery owner estimated that he was throwing out 20% of what he made each day. And yet he still kept making the same amount!!! Seriously…it’s hard to imagine that someone would do this day after day, but I’m sure he’s not alone in making such a mistake.

Problems with your inventory may not be as easy to assess as it is with a bakery, but if you routinely have an oversupply that you have to sell off at discount prices – or worse, have to dispose of at no cost, like this baker – you need to rethink what you’re doing.

• Sometimes – in fact, oftentimes – less is more. Many of the bakeries seen in the show have incredibly extensive menus that include items that haven’t been selling for a long time but that the bakers keep making because that’s what they’ve always done. Vincent forces them to pare down their offerings so they can concentrate on making fewer items but making them better. By improving the overall quality and look of their products, they are able to raise their prices. Check out your product line-up and see if it could benefit from some paring.

• Make it easy for your employees to do their best work. In one episode of “Save My Bakery” the cake decorator – the person who was making the products with the highest profit margins –worked in a tiny space where people constantly brushed by her on their way to get supplies stored in an area beyond her. She had little space to store her decorating supplies and, in general, it was just a lousy workspace. The redesign of the bakery included making her area three feet wider, thus eliminating the issue of having people bump into her while she was doing the delicate work of decorating cakes.

Consider what kind of workspace you’re providing your workers. Is it designed to optimize their efficiency? How could you make it better? Solutions need not be expensive. Hiring a professional organizer to come in and give you a few ideas, for example, could provide you would affordable input that could lead to increased productivity.

“Save My Bakery” appears on the Food Network on Wednesdays at 8:00 PM Eastern. Check it out and see if there are lessons you can learn for your small business.

2 comments

  1. Marge says:

    My husband and I have watched every episode and we really love this show. It is so interesting to see how Ms. Vincent gets the items looking different and selling again. The workers do a wonderful job giving the bakeries an up lift. We sure hope this show stays on for quite some time.

    • JeanneYocum says:

      I see from the schedule on Food Network that it's running through early May at least. Let's hope it's drawing enough of an audience to make them order more episodes!

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