Award winning bakery chef Stephen Pazyra thinks bakery items are more than mere food. To him, baked goods represent comfort foods that evoke nostalgia, bring back memories, and make people feel good. As the co-owner of 1-800-Bakery, Inc., he strives to bring the customer experience of your local bakery online by delivering the best baked good direct from the bakeries that make them.
The forty-nine year old began in the restaurant business as a cook in his native Boston. After moving successfully into restaurant management, Stephen was asked to oversee a large wholesale bakery company. Tired of working for others, he decided it was time to start his own business.
Stephen and his wife, Danette, purchased in 1984 a small bakery, called La Patisserie, in Winchester, Massachusetts. They purchased it from an Austrian man, who taught them the art of making European pastries. Over the following twenty years, Stephen and Danette expanded the bakery into a 4,000 square foot upscale facility, complete with a retail store and a separate production facility that also met the demands of distributors and caterers. Acclaimed for his cakes, croissants, and pastries, the Pazyras had turned a local bakery into a thriving, regional business. But they weren’t done there.
In 2002 they decided to pursue an idea that Stephen had been cultivating for nearly a decade. He wanted to provide a way for his out-of-state customers to purchase La Patisserie’s bakery items online, and have them delivered to their door. Nearly a year later 1-800-Bakery.com was born with the mission of providing the best quality baked goods direct from the bakeries that make them. In the past three years, Stephen and Danette have built a network of bakeries throughout the United States that allows 1- 800-Bakery.com to fulfill this daunting challenge. The result is a thriving ecommerce business that offers a wide range of pastries, baked goods, cakes, and more, all delivered fresh to your door.
PeC: What leads an award-winning pastry chef to become an ecommerce entrepreneur?
Pazyra: We had such a reputation for our croissants and cakes that our customers from out-of-state kept asking us to send them products. Eventually the demand became so great that we started a mail order business in order to accommodate people. This was nearly ten years ago, and I was already interested in the potential of the Internet. In fact, I bought the domain name (1-800-Bakery.com) around that time, but it wasn’t until around 2002 that I felt consumers were comfortable enough with online shopping to buy baked goods. About a year later we started our first online store that offered just our products from La Patisserie. It didn’t take long for word of what we were doing to spread, and we quickly recognized the demand for other products that our bakery didn’t make. Since a person in the bakery business knows their products, and not necessarily how to run a successful website, we decided to create a professionally-run website that would allow bakeries to sell their best products online. In that way, everyone benefits, from the bakeries to the customers.
PeC: What were the challenges that you faced initially when you were making 1-800-Bakery.com a reality?
Pazyra: Initially the biggest challenge was finding the time. Since my wife, Danette, and I were already running a bakery in Winchester, developing a new business required a sizeable time commitment. Aside from that, our business model centered on connecting many different bakeries together and offering the best products from each. In order to preserve the customer experience we wanted to provide, each item had to reach the customer fresh, which meant that each item had to be shipped direct from the bakery. Not only that, some items like cakes could only be shipped next day or two-day in order to arrive fresh. Finding a shopping cart system that would be able to accommodate this was probably the biggest challenge when we were getting started.
PeC: What shopping cart software do you use, and why did you decide to choose it?
Pazyra: Originally we started our online store with just our products from La Patisserie, so we went with ShopSite’s shopping cart system. It was a hosted solution that cost us a monthly fee and was reasonably easy to manage. However, in 2004 we realized that we wanted to expand our product offerings to include other bakeries in our network. This meant that each bakery would need to be able to log into our site to receive and manage their orders. The site would also need to automatically associate each product with the bakery that produces it, and calculate shipping charges for a variety of shipping sources. In addition, since certain products had shipping restrictions, we needed a system that could recognize these restrictions and apply them. After researching different shopping cart options, we decided that osCommerce was the best choice for us. I was initially attracted to it because it is open source, and I like the philosophy behind the open source movement. The price was right (free), and because the software is open source we were able to make the modifications that our business required.
PeC: Once you had decided on osCommerce, what did you focus on next?
Pazyra: We hired a company called B2 Services B2Services.com to make the modifications to osCommerce, once we figured out a flow and what we needed to make it happen. While they were working on the back end we spent a lot of time on the design to ensure that it was user friendly and easy to navigate. We wanted to make sure that our contact information was prominently displayed, that our security measures were made obvious to our customers, and that the site had a simple interface that would allow our customers to find the products and information they wanted easily.
PeC: What has been the biggest challenge in running 1-800-Bakery.com?
Pazyra: Our biggest challenge is managing all of our partner bakeries. Since each bakery drop-ships the products that they make to the customer, we have a large challenge in keeping track of everything. We need to make sure that our partner bakeries are not overwhelmed with orders, which sometimes requires us to remove items from the website temporarily. We also have systems in place that allow us to track orders all the way through the fulfillment process, which helps us and our partners with order management. However, everyone makes mistakes and occasionally they happen. We are also trying to bring the personal touch (that a customer gets when they normally walk into bakery) to the Internet, which is a difficult challenge. Since the Internet is a non-personal medium, we send customers a hand-written email asking them how they liked our products. This little touch is a great way to find out about and correct mistakes, but more importantly adds a personal touch.
PeC: How are you able to manage and coordinate shipping from all of these different bakeries?
Pazyra: When it comes to how each item needs to be handled, we benefit greatly from the fact that our partner bakeries ship direct. Since each partner knows their product better than anyone, they know how to best package and ship it. However, not every item can be shipped the same. We had to modify osCommerce so that it would not determine shipping by weight, and so that it would recognize that certain items could not be shipped in certain ways. While this has helped us tremendously, the shopping cart still uses averages to calculate shipping charges. In the next year or so we will have a system in place that will calculate more accurate shipping costs based on the location of the source bakery, product restrictions, and the shipping destination. This will be a big improvement, but we have found that using averages works pretty well. Our customers know that they are getting charged a fair price, and despite gains and losses on individual orders, we come out pretty much even on the whole.
PeC: How do you handle customer service issues that come up?
Pazyra: We handle all customer service issues personally. So far we have been pretty lucky, and the only customer service issues that we have dealt with are related to the fact that we ship baked goods. Getting bakery items to a customer presents a difficult customer service point, and we are limited to what is possible with shipping perishable goods. Most of our customers are understanding of this, and our job has simply been to inform them of these limitations. In our business, telling a customer that they cannot receive an item on a certain day is customer service, since our motivation lies in wanting them to receive a product that is as fresh as it could be. But sometimes issues do arise. We stand behind either shipping a replacement product right away or sending our customers a complete refund. We maintain a 100% guarantee on satisfaction, and I have found that when you correct a mistake properly, you gain a customer for life.
PeC: And how has business been?
Pazyra: So far it has been great. We did about $52,000 in sales our first year. Once we implemented our partner system we expect to see nearly $300,000 in sales for 2005, and we estimate that we will do nearly $800,000 in 2006. We have discovered an interesting niche that we didn’t expect in the B-to-B market. La Patisserie had a long-standing reputation for being a quality bakery, and with our new success at finding and delivering bakery items we started getting requests from companies. For example, a cruise line client of ours sends out a box of our award-winning croissants to each customer that provides a referral, as a token of their appreciation. This generates tremendous word-ofmouth advertising and builds customer loyalty. It has been surprising how great our business has been from helping other businesses grow.
PeC: What does the future hold for 1-800- Bakery.com?
Pazyra: Within the next six months we will be expanding our product line from around 20 bakery partners to about 50. We would like to get our website to the point where any customer can get any bakery item that they want from the bakery that makes it the best. No matter what the bakery item, we want to be able to bring the best available to our customers, while also maintaining a personal customer experience. Bakery products are a comfort food; they bring back memories and make people feel good. That is the experience that we want to bring to our customers.