Owning and running a bakery takes hard work and the path to success is often paved with flour, sweat and tears. For some bakers however, the steep learning curve has been softened by the knowledge and support of a franchise network.
When husband and wife Bevan and Mel Pope moved to Australia five years ago and opened a Bakers Delight franchise, they already knew a thing or two about food. Before turning their hands to bread making and baking, both had been hard at work on the family farm for 18 years, rearing sheep and cattle in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
“I came into the business without any previous baking experience,” Bevan explains.
“But my 20 years of farming gave me a solid understanding of running a business and an appreciation of the amount of work involved in producing something from scratch.”
There are some clearly serious and quite fundamental differences between farming stock and baking bread. When the couple was farming, Bevan says, they were producing something that would ultimately become a product in the refrigerated section of a supermarket. Their contribution was crucial, but limited to one stage – they had no control over how the final product turned out.
With baking, in contrast, Bevan and Mel can create a product from scratch, watching flour, water, salt and starter come together and turn into sourdough; or flour, fruit, water, sugar, and spices turn into one of the bakery’s famous hot cross buns.
“I find it really rewarding to now be baking something from scratch, putting the final product on the shelf and seeing customers enjoy it day after day,” Bevan says.
The rewards of franchising, he says, go beyond the product. The couple chose to become part of a franchise because it was a solid way of investing with less risk. Baker’s Delight was a successful, established business that could offer the first-time bakers (and former farmers) expert advice about best processes and practices; and their customers brand-name recognition.
“We knew we wanted to purchase a food franchise and Bakers Delight was an affordable choice for us, unlike many of the fast food and café chains also advertising,” Bevan says.
“We were also looking for a stable product offering that would not see seasonal challenges. We’d been buying Bakers Delight products since we moved to Australia and always thought of it as a quality brand with a strong offering. It was a good fit for us.”
Even with a successful business model and the support of area managers and fellow franchisees, there have been some hurdles. The early starts, Bevan says, were a challenge to begin with, as was the change of scenery – the four walls of a bakery took some getting used to after years spent in pastures under open sky. Being accountable for 20 staff members was also very different to what the former stockman was used to.
“It became clear to me early on that there was no opportunity to switch off. You have to lead from the front to keep your team positive,” he says.
“Owning your own business is hard work, but if you are passionate and motivated, it will make it all worthwhile.”
After years spent working as a pastry cook, production manager and head baker Peter Eaton decided it was time for a career change.
However, he was reluctant to leave the industry that had formed such a large part of his life, choosing instead to tackle the challenge of being a business owner and opening a Ferguson Plarre franchise in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
Peter says it was a career move he had always considered as a possibility, but its eventuation ultimately came down to good timing.
“I had always wanted to go into business but I didn’t have the time before, because I wanted to wait until the kids had grown up and finished school. The time just wasn’t right,” Peter explains.
Officially launching the kiosk in Bentons Square Shopping Centre in April 2011, Peter says at first it was a struggle to get the largely unknown franchise name recognised by the wider community. But the long hours and hard work slowly began to pay dividends, and the business began to flourish.
Explaining his in-depth knowledge not only of products but also the wider baking industry has proven to be a priceless addition to the business, Peter says other aspects of being a business owner also came naturally to him.
“Concepts like watching the temperature in the fridges and ordering came quite easily to me. I can also talk about products all day because I’ve been cooking pastry since I was 15, so if someone comes in with a question about a product, like the process of making the pies, then I can explain it quite easily,” Peter says.
Nevertheless, there were still new and, sometimes, difficult aspects of business life that Peter had to integrate into his daily workings.
“My wife and I set ourselves up with a good bookkeeper and accountant, that was really important. We tried to take the bit out of our heads where, as a business owner, you come home and think about the business all the time,” Peter says.
“We wanted to be able to come home and have our homelife at home and our business life during business hours. We wanted to be stress free.”
In fact, Peter admits one of the hardest parts of being a new business owner was actually finding the right staff. Coming to grips with how busy and time consuming the business would be was another aspect.
“I knew it was going to be hard work, especially since we were starting up in an area where the company name wasn’t well known. What I say is work out how hard you believe it will be to run your own business, and then times that by three or four. And that’s just to get it up and running,” Peter laughs.
Nevertheless, Peter says the long busy days proved to be hugely rewarding, beyond the simple monetary returns.
“I love the contact with the customers. When I used to run and work in the bakehouse I didn’t really get that contact or that feedback,” Peter says.
“It’s just so rewarding. When a little kid comes in and opens their cake box for the first time and their eyes light up it makes you feel like you’re doing something for the community as well, not just trying to make money.”
After spending 10 years with the Jamaica Blue café franchise serving up meals and snacks, coffees and sweets, Don Manton decided to jump ship and dedicate himself to the service of a single baked treat: the humble muffin. In 2009, Don opened his Muffin Break café at Erina Fair on the Central Coast of New South Wales and, since then, has proven himself as an accomplished baker and businessman.
“Because I’d previously owned a Jamaica Blue café I trusted the Foodco systems, which led me to choosing another Foodco franchise: Muffin Break,
” Don explains.“Since opening my café, I’ve found the Muffin Break franchise to very much be a turn-key operation. It provides me with flexibility within the franchise system and allows franchisees to customise our product range to suit our unique customer base.”
Within the franchise system, Don can choose from more than 200 muffin varieties; 20 types of pie and quiche; 10 kinds of wraps; and 30 varieties of cakes and slices to tailor his menu to suit his customers’ tastes. An average Muffin Break store has 30 places to fill in their cabinets, which means menus are consistently changing – franchisees, if they choose, can go for more than a week without repeating a single variety of muffin, pie, quiche, wrap, cake or slice.
Don has discovered his customers have their own particular favourites, however. The Central Coast, he explains, is home to a lot of retirees and older residents, and after observing sales and listening to customer feedback, he realised they preferred traditional flavours like choc chip, blueberry, and apple cinnamon. Classic savoury flavours like ham, cheese and tomato toasties; and quiche Lorraine also sell well at lunchtime.
“To have a successful bakery-café it’s really important to provide customers with a choice of delicious, fresh products all throughout the day,” Don says.
“Muffin Break as we know it today is much more than just muffins. We’ve got a large range of freshly baked sweet and savoury products, which are all baked in-store each morning for breakfast and lunch, as well as morning and afternoon snacks. These all have to be tailored to what our customers love.”
While Don had a decade-long background in hospitality, there were still some lessons to be learnt as a baker. As a Muffin Break franchisee, he received extensive baking training from the company’s head office before he opened his store and had to continue undergoing regular training, even after it opened. This meant a lot of early morning starts, which Don says proved a little challenging at first, but were nothing that a strong coffee couldn’t fix.
These days, unsurprisingly, Don is more likely to be found on the coffee machine where he oversees front-of-house and front-line customer service. Coffee, increasingly, is becoming a big part of the Muffin Break brand and Don’s Erina Fair store has employed trained baristas, along with two bakers who make sure the entire team consistently exceeds customer expectations.
For the time being, Don says he’s content with his achievements at Erina Fair – last year the Franchise Council of Australia invited him to join the Franchisee Success Club – and business is booming. Still, Don doesn’t have any immediate plans to replicate his success with another store.
“But I’ve had such a positive experience as a Muffin Break franchisee that I am open-minded to opening another franchise if and when the timing is right,” he says.
When he was five, Brett Davis dreamed about owning a bakery; and, as a teenager and adult, he made sure his dreams came true. After working in retail and managing small bakeries for 15 years, in 2011 Brett and his wife Bree moved to Booval, Ipswich and helped establish Puckles as a new bakery franchise in Queensland.
While Bree had never worked in bakeries – before opening their business, she had worked as a sports administrator – she did have a customer service background, and their combined experience, Brett says, gave them a good idea of what to expect when they became to bakery franchisees.
“Definitely our past experience has made a difference,” Brett says.
“I’ve spent 15 years in bakeries and retail and Bree has a strong customer service background. Puckles offers training, so that experience isn’t a must-have for new franchisees but, for us, it made the transition that much easier. It also means we’re still working to our strengths.”
While running a bakery had been a long-time dream, Brett says taking the first step towards making it a reality was understandably daunting. Taking ownership of a brand and business is no easy task, but having the support, assistance and friendship of the Puckles team, he says, made the big and weighty decisions feel smaller and lighter.
“Once we saw Puckles’ success, Bree and I jumped at the chance to get our foot in the door with our first bakery. We wanted the challenge of operating a small business – we have a real passion for food and customer service and we knew we’d have the support and assistance of the Puckles team, which is something you wouldn’t have if you were on your own,” he says.
The support framework that came with the franchise was only one part of why Brett and Bree chose Puckles. A bigger part was Puckles’ product range, which Brett says is high quality and flexible and offers low wastage. The company uses real ingredients like fresh cream; real custard; free-range eggs and chicken; and hormone-free beef for their range of pies, sausage rolls, cakes and treats.
Still, the best part of taking charge of a Puckles franchise, Brett says, has been the autonomy and freedom that comes with being his own boss, without feeling alone. The Puckles network, he says, is always behind him, providing expertise and advice for unfamiliar situations and helping develop the brand and identity of the bakery. At the same time, though, he has the freedom to make his own decisions and guide the success of his business.
“You have to be prepared to put in the hours if you want the returns,” he says.
“But that all gets washed away when you see your food putting smiles on people’s faces and see kids walking out licking their lips covered in icing and chocolate. You give a lot of yourself to make it a success, but you get back in so many ways.”
A long time ago, Lester Hamilton was a farmer and his wife Lyndsey was a nurse. After growing up in Katherine in the Top End and working long hours in their respective careers, the couple dreamed about opening their own retail business. But without any experience in retail or sales, they figured a franchise would be their best opportunity to access the training and support they needed to succeed. The only thing they had to settle on, of course, was what kind of franchise and the answer, Lester says, was pretty straightforward.
“We figured everyone needed bread and will always need bread,” he says.
“And with the strength of the Brumby’s brand and support from an established franchise we thought a bakery would be a secure business to open. We were hard workers in our previous careers and nursing and farming both involve long hours and a dedication to what you are doing.
“I definitely feel that we brought our strong work ethic across to our franchise, which has helped us with the long hours and dedication required during those first few years starting out.”
Lester and Lyndsey started out in 2000, when they opened their first and only Brumby’s franchise in Alice Springs. The couple thought the position and potential of the bakery would provide them with an enduring and successful business and they were right – it’s now one of the busiest stores in the Brumby’s network.
The couple now employs three bakers, two apprentice bakers, three full-time retail staff and about six casual retail staff. Their oldest staff member is a 50-year-old baker and their youngest is a 14-year-old customer service assistant, and each team member brings a different cultural background and set of experiences to the business. The diversity of his team, Lester says, is one of his business’s greatest strengths, as it creates a strong dynamic between staff and brings a broad range of ideas and approaches.
“When we were starting out, we had huge trouble recruiting qualified bakers to work in our bakery, being in such a rural location,” he says.
“Our saving grace was being able to sponsor overseas bakers who have been just fantastic and have given us the stability we needed. Of our three bakers, one has been with us for more than six years, while the other two have worked with us for between two and three years. Since moving to Alice Springs with their families from Vietnam and South Korea, our bakers have built a life for themselves and now own houses in the area and are a big part of the local community.”
Lester says he and Lyndsey believe in empowering their staff to take ownership of their roles. This has allowed them to build a stable and consistent team, which has significant benefits for their business. Consistent, well-trained staff, Lester explains, means consistent, good quality products, which drive sales and keep customers happy.
“The biggest thing that has improved the success of the business, and our ability to be successful, has been learning to manage staff effectively: to have longevity from our team members and lower turnover so that we aren’t losing staff,” he says.
“My wife and I have always had the desire to work on our business rather than in it, and we believe the more you can work on your business the more successful it can be.”