Gilmartins Bakery is an artisan café in Stewarton specializing in delicious sourdough, cakes and coffee. The bakery takes pride in being a local business, supporting local suppliers as well as the community.
Stephanie Stewart of Gilmartins said: "After a challenging first year in business involving an expansion, a collapsing ceiling and various other unforeseen challenges, the last thing we expected to affect our business was a pandemic. We had just started to adapt our business to cope with the challenges of VAT registration when the Prime Minister issued the advice to citizens not to go to public gathering places such as cinemas or restaurants. We saw a decrease in trade almost immediately and, coupled with our staff’s concerns, we knew we would have to take action of our own.
"We have always had a small food retail offering (as an alumnus of the Waitrose graduate scheme I am passionate about high-quality groceries) and we were able to buy a display fridge last year with the help of a grant from Scottish Bakers. This allowed us to start selling high-quality local produce such as Mossgiel milk, Corrie Mains eggs, Pieroni hot smoked salmon and Dunlop cheese. Just prior to lockdown it became apparent that our customers were struggling to get their usual food in supermarkets, but our supply chain remained unaffected - in fact, most of our suppliers had surplus as the restaurants and schools they supplied started to close.
"One of our suppliers, Braehead Foods, gave us a large amount of cheese on a sale-or-return basis and supplied us with catering-sized packs of chicken, pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes and other hard-to-find items. We roped in our fruit and veg supplier, and IJ Mellis, with whom we had a wine and cheese night planned, and soon we had a fairly full grocery selection. The first iteration of the operation was a highly manual Google form on our website which involved a lot of behind-the-scenes admin. One of our customers, who very kindly offered to help us with our comms, suggested a colleague who could build us an ecommerce website very quickly which we happily agreed to.
"The challenging part has been continuing to meet bakery demand - with most of the team furloughed, I’m usually baking alone, so sourdough production has had to be limited to 18 loaves three times a week, and the occasional birthday cake on request. We have set up a new system where grocery deliveries/collections happen three times a week, and due to frequent requests we have made sure to have the coffee machine manned and a good cake selection available on these days too. It seems more than ever that customers are in need of a wee treat these days.
"Any bread that doesn’t sell has been frozen, and we offer these frozen loaves as a slightly cheaper option on our website - they’ve been really popular. Customers have also been really keen to chat to us about their own baking - as the supply of small bags of flour has dried up, we’ve been happy to bag up flour from our bulk bags and many customers have chosen to buy 16kg sacks from us too. We hit a snag with yeast supply in the past week or two, but have managed to secure some from a new supplier, BAKO, to keep our customers baking.
"Now that the demand for grocery has waned slightly, and I have been able to un-furlough three team members to help with packing orders and making coffee, it’s time to think about what comes next. We know that cafes and restaurants will be some of the last places that will be allowed to return to their usual operations, so it’s time now to plan ahead and think about how the future of our business will look in terms of trading hours, diversification of income streams and customers’ wants and needs. In a way it’s a fantastic opportunity to take control of the situation and use it as a really positive building block - without this enforced “pause”, we might never have had the impetus to take this step. We’ve been approached by some wonderful local businesses including a florist, a stationery company and a healthy snacking manufacturer who are all now selling through our website, so working more with them in the future could be an exciting avenue to develop, and the opportunity to think creatively about how to make this work is a rare and special one.
You are clearly up for the challenge of running a small business and your challenges have been considerable! Despite this your thinking and planning has worked well for you. You deserve success and as long as your two steps forward copes with the one step back you will get there.
Best wishes for a successful future.