I often get asked how we manage to do so well in country towns. What are we doing that’s so different? We don’t really have any secrets. We just stick to one basic rule: we are in business to serve the customer.
You can really make a difference having your business in a regional town. I should know: we have six bakeries in regional Victoria. Every business I’ve owned in the past 39 years has been in the country. However, I do feel that the same principles would work in any city or suburb.
People want it fresh and they want it now, and they would like it with a smile.
In a country town, you have to sell yourself before you can sell your product.
Our managers get involved in the local community, be it sports clubs or church groups. Don’t be faceless. Show people you’re involved, get out there and build relationships. Learn to understand customers’ needs and the community’s too.
One little thing you can do is wear your name badge at all times, it helps the locals to get to know you more quickly. Smile. This shows people you’re happy to be part of the community. And if you see somebody without a smile, give them one. It won’t cost you anything.
I have found in all areas of my life, the more you give, the more you get. However, you have to be disciplined with the sponsorships and donations you provide – set a budget and stick to it. Use local tradespeople, such as plumbers, electricians, etc. Get involved with your chamber of commerce but start low-key, otherwise you’ll end up on every committee. Be prepared to say, ‘Sorry, but I have to say no’.
Be optimistic about everything, because people like to be around positivity. It’s so easy to be negative, and it doesn’t help anyone. To be positive you’ve got to get off your bum and have a go. Show an interest in your customers’ lives, learn their names and use them.
Now, in my earlier days, I didn’t do any of this stuff. And I could always justify why I couldn’t: I was too busy, or it wasn’t my thing, or whatever. I always had some excuse.
But after being in business for nine years, where my business didn’t actually go anywhere, I started to attend trade shows. First in Australia, then overseas. I got to see what was happening in our industry. I met lots of wonderful, helpful bakers prepared to share their thoughts and ideas.
Going to these trade shows really got me out of my comfort zone and changed the way I ran my bakery. I started working on my business as well as in it.
My wife would set a budget for one overseas trade show each year. We would combine these trips with a family holiday. Over the years our kids got to go to the US and Germany a few times, to New Zealand, as well as other great places.
I don’t get to as many trade shows now, but our managers do. Two of our bakers, Bray and Dan, just attended the BakeNZ conference held in Napier. They loved it and had the time of their lives. We also had three employees represent us at Fine Food Australia in Sydney. They loved looking at all the latest developments, got lots of inspiration and came back with a whole lot of new ideas.
People often say to me they can’t afford to go to trade shows. Well, we can’t afford not to. I strongly believe if you stop learning, you’re buggered. Last year four of us went to the US and attended a course on people management at the Disney Institute in California. You’ve got to keep investing in yourself and your team.
Every business is after your customers. These days many others sell what you’re selling. If you’re not prepared to do that little bit extra, you’re history. And there’s no excitement in being average.
My business partner, Marty Matassoni, runs the whole show today. He realised right from the start the value of working on the business. Marty is involved in the Chamber of Commerce and works closely with the local shires and Tourism Victoria. That’s on top of looking after six managers in our bakeries. These shops are turning over more than $14 million a year, all in retail. We don’t do any wholesale.
Our product is not really that different from the competitions’, but it’s our people that make the difference.
At Beechworth Bakery we keep investing in our people, and in our community. I really do believe that the best is yet to come… as long as I’m prepared to keep on learning.