We spoke with Gregg Bernhardt, co-owner of Bag of Bones Barkery in Hamilton, N.J. about the store’s expansive bakery and line of treats.
Rebekah: Can you tell me a little about Bag of Bones Barkery?
Gregg: Bag of Bones Barkery is a 5,000 square-foot all natural pet bakery and supply store. We cater to dogs and cats in our store. We carry more than 38 brands of all-natural pet food and treats as well as nine lines of our own proprietary treats which we now have available through NAN Distribution in over 60 stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
Rebekah: I see that Bag of Bones does custom cakes. Can you tell me more about that?
Gregg: We offer custom cakes of all kinds! We are one of the only bakery locations we know of that will make a truly customized cake for your pets completely from scratch. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors of our business.
While birthday cakes are our most popular, we have completed cakes for a variety of occasions – including bark-mitvahs, graduation from obedience school, welcome to the neighborhood, farewell and even doggy weddings and cakes for cats! We’ve even made favors to match the cakes for party guests. Our cakes are made in a variety of standard flavors, such as pumpkin, vanilla and peanut butter, but we can make pretty much any cake a customer would like, including grain- and gluten-free cakes. And of course, we personalize each one to our customers’ specifications.
We’ve made a wide variety of cakes—everything from individual, small cupcakes to big, 25-pound multi-layer cakes. For one of our former dogs’ birthdays, we made a 6-foot long bone-shaped cake! And, for our last minute shoppers, we offer pre-made, refrigerated cakes frosted with yogurt that we can personalize at time of purchase.
Rebekah: What kind of feedback do you hear from customers about your in-store bakery?
Gregg: Bag of Bones Barkery is still first and foremost a pet bakery. My wife Melissa and I started our business baking from the basement of our house about 10 years ago and we still love operating the bakery and offering an awesome variety of baked goods for pets to this day. Our customers absolutely love our baked items because they are cute, unique and look good enough for customers to eat themselves. In fact, many customers have told us how great it was to share their dogs’ cake with them.
Because we are baking daily in our store, the items in our bakery case change from day to day, too. Customers love stopping by to see what new and exciting things we’ve imagined for their pets. They also appreciate the wide variety of baked items we offer – everything from small and large bones in seven flavors to grain- and gluten-free Healthy Bites and the ever-popular gourmet peanut butter puffs – which we eat ourselves and encourage our customers to try.
Rebekah: What is the process for manufacturing bakery items and then selling them inside a retail store?
Gregg: While much of this is proprietary information, what we can say is that operating a pet bakery inside of the store is a full-time operation that requires several staff members on a daily basis. It’s not what most people probably romanticize about. It is very hard, physical work. You stand on your feet most of the day and you’re moving around a lot. Working around the big convection ovens gets very warm and using custom-made industrial machinery is a must if you want to run a bakery that is a profitable part of your business. You must have a good, quality source for your ingredients as well as one that is reliable and affordable. Then, you must have a staff that is super creative – or at least creative enough – to ensure that you have a steady flow of new ideas for items to make for your customers. The old standbys are nice, of course, but if you don’t have new things to offer fairly regularly, your customers will get bored.
And if you’re going to branch out into cakes, cupcakes or anything of the sort, you’re talking about freezing or refrigerating which requires expensive and space-eating bakery cakes and/or refrigerators/freezers. In some municipalities, pet bakeries are held to the same or similar standards as human bakeries, so regular inspections from your town Department of Health may be required. And, you’re required to register with (at minimum) your state’s Department of Agriculture and pay annual fees to operate a pet feed manufacturing facility. It’s not a walk in the park like most people think. There is a lot involved but we pride ourselves on what we’ve created in our store since opening in 2007.
Rebekah: If you could give advice to a retailer about their bakery section, what would you say?
Gregg: I would say make sure you offer items that are as nutritious as they are pretty. Be sure to offer items in every price bracket and most definitely have items to celebrate birthdays. And if you can’t offer cakes because of refrigeration issues, consider a product like our Barkday Cake Mixes, which are a good option for people to interactively celebrate birthdays with pets!
Of course, you have to have a lot of variety in your bakery section and always keep it well stocked to avoid what we call ‘last doughnut syndrome.’ That is, no one likes to buy the last one or two of an item. Fully stocked bakery cakes and sections will result in many more sales than an empty, disheveled case. That’s a given.
Consider offering a variety of prepackaged bakery items, not just loose pieces. Quite often, customers come in looking for a quick gift that doesn’t require wrapping, since they are on their way to meet an acquaintance who has pets. Offering a bakery section offers your customers hard-to-resist impulse buys. That’s why we feel it is important to ensure that your bakery items are at or very close to your register.