I’ve had an OLD idea…


I know I was zigging while everyone else was zagging, but when I started this business in the summer of 2005 I had a vision that we would have a string of baker-owned bakeries.

The idea was that each baker would be given shares in the business at whatever outlet they ran, but we would provide the premises, equipment, infrastructure, branding and marketing.

We called it our simple, repeatable formula.

However, because at the time I didn’t have any fuck-it-we’re-doing-it-my-way-money my vision got sidetracked by others who were driven by cash, ego or conventional wisdom.

This meant that we ended up following conventional wisdom, which was to use industrial units with cheap rents in which to bake bread, and have a fleet of vans and army of drivers distributing to kiosks, cafés and stores in the high street.

While that is a rational way of doing things, it has no sex appeal to the consumer, and it ended up not working for us.

Over the past five years I’ve realised that following conventional wisdom has failed us, but now we have a big opportunity to rethink our business. I like to think of it in the context of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. 

What my instinct was telling me back in 2005 was that customers who don’t have to make their purchasing decisions based solely on price want sex with their purchase. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.

What this means is that they go to Tesco to get commodities like toilet rolls, but buy their chicken with added heart and soul from places like River Cottage.

My generation – the baby boomers – have been creating brands since birth; just think of the NHS, Mary Quant, Thomson Holidays, Habitat, Mothercare, Halifax Building Society, The Pru and, more recently, Saga Holidays.

However, as this generation gets older its needs change, and brands grow and shrink accordingly. A prime example is Glastonbury. 40 years ago the festival-goers pissed in fields but now they want luxury toilets with soft paper and a hand basin. This desire to change the status quo is in their and, now, their children’s genes.

This generation and their children are our customers and, after all, they make up 50% of the population and they are not poor.

When we brought bread-making back to Lyme from our unit in Topsham sales went up, and this was because people appreciated that we were baking onsite and rewarded us with their custom. Quality also went up, because the freshness improved too.

But now I want to take this even further, or rather I want to take a step backwards to the original, pre-war baking schedule of the baker. Our bakers will start at 4.00am with bread made first, morning goods next, then a lunch offer and finally pastries for tea. Then they’ll head home around 2.00pm leaving the sponges on for the next day, while the apprentice does pizzas in the evening because he’s young and needs the tips.

So now it’s time to think about spreading our business model even further afield.

What I want to continue working towards is the pre-war idea of a tradesman/shopkeeper making his living from his own output, craft, imagination and personality. In that pre-war world, delivery was expensive and slow, and distance-to-market was limited by car technology and a relatively under-developed road network – I’m talking horse and cart or a tiny engine in a tiny van, although this idea may turn out to be even more relevant today than it was five years ago, given our current economic climate with rising fuel costs and cuts in bus routes and so on.

So how do we do it?

We start by training bakers. Plenty of people are shelling out ridiculous sums of money to attend training courses at artisan bakery schools so we know there are people out there wanting to learn the craft of bakery.

We’ll start with one apprentice on a graded pay scale over the course of their training. Once they are fully trained we’ll send them off to run one of our bakeries, and to give them an incentive to work hard we’ll give them shares – 20% – that will pay them a dividend of the monthly profits of that outlet on top of a £7,543 salary.

They’ll only have to produce 200-300 loaves of five different types of bread, which will more than meet customer demand, and because everything will be made on site it will save us time and guarantee the freshness of the product every day.

Since we’re no longer doing wholesale, this will increase the individual profitability of each of the bakeries in our estate and enable each one to become a brand in its own right, with its own personality.

And that’s it. Simple and effective, giving the customer just the right amount of quirky, relaxed, 21st century, sustainable glamour with their pain de campagne, cup of coffee or lemon slice.

After all, we’re not just in the food business; we’re in the entertainment business. Our customers want more than simply sustenance – it’s the entertaining parts of life that people remember and want to keep returning to. That’s what builds a brand: an addiction to fun.

5 Responses to “I’ve had an OLD idea…”

  1. Very excited about your old-skool re-modelling of the business, everything I’ve been reading, seeing and thinking about over the last 5 years tells me that you’re spot on. Will there be wood fired ovens on site?? Look forward to writing about your journey at http://www.thecraftbaker.co.uk and hopefully inspiring you with some old skool recipes ripe for reviving.

  2. 2 TonyI

    A seductively attractive business model which if I was younger, living at home with my parents, and had no dependents (a partner and 2 kids) I would be ripping your arm off to join.

    I wish you every success in the future and will observe from afar with great interest!


  3. you should do it, there’s far too much bad bread out there
    i make most of my own, but when i do buy i get the best bread i can get hold of, and have always enjoyed visiting the lyme regis bakery over the years

  4. 4 claire

    As someone with a lot to learn but an absolute burning desire to make it as an artisan baker, I can only cheer at this. My current ambition is to start a diploma at the school of artisan food in 2012/13 provided I can get the funding, and the idea of being an apprentice with yourselves is beyond imaginings, considering how much I have been impressed by the insightful musings on this blog -i wish you luck with this enterprise, and all others in future.

  5. 5 Simon Spiller

    Nice Zig Clive. Good luck with the new model, we have been to Eden a couple of times and they are keeping it real as well.
    Otterton Mill

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