Woodmore Pastry Shop: Still delighting customers in a down economy

With consumers putting a tighter squeeze on their spending, retailers everywhere are being forced to get creative in order to maintain a profitable business. JoAnna Gray is just one example of a retail baker who mixed things up to help her shop adapt to these challenging times. The result? Her bakery is not only surviving; it’s thriving.

Differentiating is key
Now more than ever, competition is fierce for the consumer’s bakery dollar. “The truth is that in-store bakeries and the branded bakery chains of the world have made inroads with their quality,” says JoAnna, who manages 25 Woodmoor employees. She admits her competitors have done a good job of giving customers satisfying products at a decent price.

To counter their advances, savvy independent retail bakers like JoAnna are using their local knowledge, flexibility, creativity and other advantages to differentiate themselves with customers. “At Woodmoor, we learned that by offering unique, on-trend items and embracing our local roots, we can be successful – even in tough economic times.”

The mini movement
Staying up on trends and offering products that cater to her customer base have sparked new sales for JoAnna. One example is the growing popularity of smaller portions. Woodmoor has jumped on this trend by offering a line of high-end Mini Cakes, Mini Pies and more – including its incredibly popular Mini Éclairs.

These items appeal to the consumer's dual desires for indulgence and lighter, smarter eating. "And," adds JoAnna, "we've found that they also help us reach new customers such as singles and empty nesters, who want the treat but don't want the expense or waste that come with a full-sized item."

Interestingly, JoAnna notes that demand for the Mini Éclairs has not affected sales of her full-sized Éclairs. In fact, they used to sell about three-dozen regular Éclairs per day. Now, they still sell that amount – and many dozens more of the Mini Éclairs daily, reinforcing her theory that she is expanding her customer base. "Everybody wins," she says. "Our patrons get the indulgence they're craving at a good price, and we pull in new customers with a product that makes a nice profit, too."

New seasonal sensations
As an independent baker, JoAnna has more flexibility than in-store bakeries when it comes to changing production processes and meeting trends – and she uses it to develop products that capitalize on “smaller” holidays and unique events.

Trying to add life to the sluggish sales period between Christmas and Easter, Woodmoor offers Mardi Gras King Cakes and pre-Lenten Paczki pastries – both big hits with customers. The bakery’s line of green breads and other St. Patrick’s Day items also provides a welcome March sales boost. “In fact,” says JoAnna, “our shop generates more volume on St. Patrick’s Day than other area bakeries do over Easter. We’ve created a nice niche for ourselves around that holiday.”

Local motion
With their authentic, hometown feel, retail bakeries like Woodmoor are capitalizing on the buy-local movement and distinguishing themselves in the minds of customers. JoAnna incorporates local seasonal specialties into her lineup of bakery offerings – adding a charming hometown touch.

In the fall, she purchases all of her apples from a nearby orchard, then creates fresh specialties such as Apple Pies, Apple Dumplings and Candied Apples. In late summer, she transforms locally grown peaches into sweet Peach Kuchen and Peach Cobbler. “Supporting local businesses is smart for our business, too,” JoAnna says. “I give my customers a fresh product, with ingredients they recognize, and support a fellow local business owner – who, in turn, sends customers my way.”

Thinking beyond bakery
JoAnna is always listening to her customers and responding to their changing needs. In doing so, she has pushed Woodmoor’s menu beyond traditional bakery categories and into other avenues. One successful initiative has been its new lunch lineup featuring Mini Pizzas and Bruschettas – each fast becoming customer favorites for their smaller size and lighter, healthier profiles.

Connected to the community
JoAnna makes sure that her shop maintains a constant, visible presence in the community by always giving back – like her family before her.

Woodmoor sponsors a local baseball team, and gives donations and discounts to three nearby churches, as well as the Boy Scouts and senior citizen groups. JoAnna also hires and mentors youngsters from the local high school, including helping them prepare for their SATs. She has even inspired a few to go on to become pastry chefs.

“When you give back, you’re putting a face on your business,” she says. “You’re personalizing it and saying ‘thanks.’” Contributing to the Silver Spring community has been part of the Woodmoor tradition for nearly 50 years. Judging from the success of this bakery, it’ll be giving back for at least 50 more.