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We baked our way out of a devastating setback

IN this week's SME Focus we hear about a family business that has managed to overcome the disastrous setback it suffered in the run-up to the key Christmas season one year.

SWEET BUSINESS: Claire Bradford is the third generation of her family in the bakery business, and hopes her children will one day take over the firm. Picture: James Galloway
SWEET BUSINESS: Claire Bradford is the third generation of her family in the bakery business, and hopes her children will one day take over the firm. Picture: James Galloway

Name: Claire Bradford.

Age? 40.

What is your business called?

Bradford's Bakers.

Where is it based?

Waterfall Bakery in Thornliebank, Glasgow.

What service does it offer?

Bakery, confectionery and speciality food products, as well as tearooms. Our product range is traditional, hand-crafted, daily bakery goods, with bread being a speciality. Our top sellers are empire biscuits and pineapple souffles. We have an 80-seater tearoom in the heart of Glasgow city centre, which is a traditional waitress-service tearoom.

Who does it sell to?

A breadth of customers across all age groups.

What is its turnover?

Approximately £2 million.

How many employees? 120.

When was it formed?

Founded in the south side of Glasgow in 1924 by Hugh Bradford with his sons, Hugh and William, Bradford's Bakery remained under the partnership of the two sons within one large, busy shop until 1969 when the premises were sold. The third-generation grandson of the founder, Hugh Robert Bradford (my father), started the business afresh with his wife Helen and three employees by increasing the quality and range of goods and introducing a wide variety of bread. Wedding cakes became a particular speciality.

The bakery soon expanded to supply its own retail outlets in and around Glasgow and by 1982 the shortage of space had become so acute that it relocated to the Waterfall Bakery, Thornliebank. We opened our first city centre shop in 1984, when we expanded our range to include hand-made chocolates and opened a separate tearoom.

In 1989 the flagship shop was relocated to its present location in Sauchiehall Street, the largest artisan baker's shop in the UK. The business has since expanded to supply 13 retail outlets, all in the Glasgow area.

Bradford's Bakers remains a family owned and operated business with my mother, Helen Bradford, and myself supported by skilled bakery staff, still baking traditional hand-crafted products passed down since 1924.

Why did you take the plunge?

I've worked in the business ever since I was at school, so it seemed perfectly natural to continue the family ownership into the fourth generation.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Having started in 1980 as a part-time packer, labeller, box maker and administration assistant during holidays and after school, I became a full-time admin assistant in 1989 for the next decade, learning all aspects of the admin and general functions required with responsibilities for the preparation of management accounts, wages processing and customer service.

I became one of four directors in 1999 and expanded my role to include development on the retail side of the business. In the summer of 2002 I took some time out following the birth of my son, though was back at work within six weeks part-time to oversee various administrative functions and help rebuild the business that had been so badly destroyed by both a fire at the bakery the previous December and, two months later, the death of my father, who had been the main driving force of the business.

I became managing director in 2003, running the business with the assistance of my mother. In 2006, we embarked on the introduction of the e-commerce site, Bradford's Bakers & Gifts.

What was your biggest break?

Winning the Glasgow's Favourite Business Award (sponsored by the Evening Times) a few years ago. Another big break was an enquiry from TalkBack Thames TV in 2009 asking if we could supply confectionery products for the filming of The X Factor when it came to Glasgow. We duly supplied a range of traditional Scottish shortbread products. When our confectioners made a 3ft limousine cake with the accompanying models of the judges, we were invited to meet (judges) Simon, Danii, Louis and Cheryl on the day of filming. We were invited back the following year to supply confectionery products.

What was your worst moment?

On December 1, 2001, we suffered a devastating fire in the bakery, just four weeks before Christmas, by far our busiest time of the year. The fire destroyed our offices and stores and 60% of the building.

The rebuilding exercise was protracted and difficult – we'd lost a lot of equipment which had enabled us to produce certain traditional items, which meant that they were unavailable for sale for a period, and so we did feel that we were stopped in our tracks.

There's no doubt that we lost a lot of ground because supermarkets were starting to open in our markets on the one hand while, on the other, the growth of the internet had encouraged some people to set up their own websites and start baking speciality products from home. It was 2003 before we could rebuild the bakery and try to make up some of the ground we'd lost.

There was the monetary aspect too: you never get back the full value on an insurance claim, and no amount of compensation can ever make up for that. We refinanced the company to deliver the rebuild of the premises and that was almost like starting from scratch again because, up until that point, we were self-financing.

Yet perhaps the worst moment came last year when a dormant subsidiary of the company went into administration but this process had nothing to do with the day to day trading of Bradford's Bakery.

It has been a slow recovery process but we are now very much focused on looking after our customers and growing the business.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Satisfying customers and coming up with innovative products. We've just launched the UK's first Bakery ATM in Glasgow's St Enoch Centre. This is a concept that took Beverly Hills by storm when it was launched in Los Angeles earlier this year. The ATM will be restocked each morning with a choice of eight cupcake flavours, freshly baked.

What do you least enjoy?

The impact that the recession has had on public spending and the fact that we are in a speciality market where everybody is watching their pennies has made trading conditions very challenging. Our products are a discretionary spend and the prevailing economic climate is a challenge that we're only now starting to overcome.

Your ambitions for the firm?

To widen our customer base to those people who might not have previously thought of coming to Bradford's; to gain and retain their custom through the enjoyment of our existing products and the introduction of new product lines and by enjoying good service.

What are your top priorities?

To engage more with our customers and get their feedback and to increase profitability. We also have a rolling programme of investment in upgrading our retail infrastructure.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Government do that would most help?

Lighten the regulatory burden within which we have to operate.Limit the amount of out-of-town shopping areas and ensure local councils encourage a good mix of daily retailers in any shopping area. Sadly, some local councils seem to be working hard to attract larger, national retailers at the expense of indigenous, independent operators. It would help a number of independent retailers if councils reviewed this policy.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

There is no substitute for hard work.

How do you relax?

Spending time with my husband, 10-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. Perhaps at some point we'll be a fifth-generation family business – my children enjoy tasting our products.

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