Guest Slot – Recruitment Insider-Nigel Sapsed

Baking is exciting. Not the tired old-school bakers that once littered the high street which have gradually been consigned to the dustbin along with other outdated retail offers. No, I mean the artisan bakers whose delicacies might be priced at the top-end but they are selling high quality products.

Gail’s: one of a batch of high-end bakers proving themselves.

The interesting thing is that people will pay for this quality. They want to surround themselves with good products in an appealing environment and receive top-notch service. They might not always want to pay-up for a full £5 loaf (£10 if it’s Poilâne) but maybe they’ll buy a pastry or an individual cake.

This is part of an increasing move away from manufactured, over-processed products towards more genuine, honest – with a perception of home-made – goods crafted from quality ingredients.

Sunblest white-sliced loaves have their place but the artisan market is where we are seeing the real growth. This is something entrepreneur Luke Johnson has spotted and he has been a consolidator of London-based bakers with Gail’s, Patisserie Valerie, Konditer & Cook, and Baker & Spice now in his expanding stable of bakery chains.

While these sorts of outfits produce quality products the environment and service also have to be spot on if the goods are to ultimately fly off the shelf. It is a lack of flight that has possibly caused some difficulties at the Paul chain of bakery shops.

Paul: purveyor of quality goods I think.

The France-based business has found it tough translating to the fast pace of service necessary in London, which I reckon is probably half the speed of that in France. People have been slinking off when they’ve seen any sort of queue because servicing each customer can take a minute or so.

Despite the pace issue there is no doubt that the Paul staff clearly love the product. To PY Gerbeau (of Millennium Dome fame/infamy) this is critical. I recall him telling me that you had to pull the product out of the shops and let customers walk around it, but above all else the key was to get the team in the shop to sell it.

Take a look at the Sourced Market in St Pancras train station and this engagement between customer, staff and products is evident. This symbiotic relationship is exactly what people now want to be associated with.

Come on in, the cakes are fine.

The shop floor team have to know how the products are made, what the ingredients are, and when the items were baked, otherwise there will be question marks over how they can convince people to pay that little bit extra for quality and goodness.

Ensuring employees know the products and engage with customers is a challenge for all retailers. Pret A Manger has historically sent every potential employee to work in one of its units for a day before they are taken on. At the end of their shift the rest of the team vote on whether they should be given the job.

The more ingenious a retailer’s methods of identifying the right people for their brand/products then the greater the chance they have of selling the products. This is the same regardless of whether you are selling high-end buns, guns or cummerbunds.

Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens