Can an old-fashioned family business succeed in today’s high tech corporate world?
This is the story of one that does succeed and it offers us some valuable lessons.
It’s the Torrance Bakery, a vintage bakery in Torrance, CA that looks like it belongs in Mayberry, from the 1960’s “Andy Griffith Show.”
Depending upon when you arrive, you’ll savor the aroma of hot dark chocolate brownies still in the oven or perhaps the sweet scent of fresh cinnamon buns.
The neighborhood has the bygone charm of its era, the 1920’s to the 1950’s. The bakery is in a 1924 two story white brick building, with blue awnings over the windows. On the sidewalk across the front of the building, it has little flower boxes sprouting white, purple and yellow blossoms.
It is on a one lane street that connects the bakery with the other charming old stores and a park just a block away. Parking is adjacent to the 16 foot sidewalk in front of the bakery. On that wide sidewalk are little green tables that set under the round green canopies of 30 foot tall trees.
As you enter, you’ll receive a warm greeting from the employees and if it’s on a Wednesday, from June Rossberg, who with her husband Dick, owns the building and whose son Kirk Rossberg and his wife Lorraine, own and operate the bakery.
In appearance and in perkiness, June will remind you of actress Doris Day. And at 80, she is still a whirlwind, greeting people by name and offering hugs all around.
But despite all of this charm and warmth, the Torrance Bakery is endangered.
Why? Because it has to compete with the big boys like Starbucks, Panera Bread, supermarkets with in-store bakeries, convenience stores like 7-11 and giant retailers like Sam’s Club.
In the last ten years, many small family owned bakeries have been driven out of business.
But not the Torrance Bakery. Started in 1984 in 1200 square feet with just six employees, it has grown, to where it now occupies 6,000 square feet, and along with a second 3,000 square foot location, employs a staff of 70 and reaps $3 million in annual sales, a donut or a bear claw at a time.
How have they prospered despite such heavy competition? By doing something you and I could do with a small business: offer what the big boys do not.
They serve a thousand customers a day! Many come for the fresh baked products, while others come because employees like June know their names and give them personal attention.
Where you do business, don’t you seek high quality products? Don’t you go where people recall your name and take an interest in you? If you have or want to start a business, this is a valuable lesson to remember.
But that’s not all the big boys would have trouble matching. “If someone wants us to recreate a wedding cake on their 50th anniversary, they need only show us a picture and tell us what they want,” said Kirk. “We have the craftsmen and the artists right here.”
In other words, they offer something unique. Don’t you shop where you can get something done the way you like it and not just stamped out en-masse? Once again, a valuable business lesson.
Kirk added, “We don’t thaw and serve; we make our products from scratch.” Because of their huge size, the big boys have to make products in vast quantities and then freeze or refrigerate them for lengthy distribution.
The Torrance Bakery also found another advantage: specialized programs. For example, every Wednesday at 10 am, they have a story lady who reads a story with music in which children sing and play simple musical instruments, like drums and tambourines.
Typically, 15 to 20 children up to five years old participate with their mothers, grandmothers and other family members and everyone has fun. Again, it’s a personal touch the big boys don’t offer and it endears the bakery to its customers.
Think of the advantage a customer connection like this could make in your business.
As a final point, I’d like to share an irony with you. I don’t eat pastries. Yet I visit this bakery to buy top quality pastries for others and to relax, briefly removed from a stressful world, where I can feel good in a quaint old-time setting.
Success Tip of the Week: As Kirk and Lorraine Rossberg demonstrate, competition with industry giants often isn’t decided by who has the lowest price or biggest inventory. A small business can readily compete by taking better care of their customers and by offering them top quality products and services they can’t easily find elsewhere.
In the next KazanToday: The story of a dedicated teacher who touched thousands of lives. Now she’ll touch yours.