Ma Baker is an award winning micro bakery and bread school, run by teacher, Liz Wilson. Her inspirational approach to providing a first-class customer experience has seen her business go from strength to strength. Modern Hospitality had the pleasure of speaking with Liz about experience-based hospitality, finding the right suppliers, top tips for growing a community online and much more.
How Ma Baker began
Ma Baker began while Liz was working as a primary school teacher. Having taken a bread course, Liz found a passion for bread making and soon realised it had the potential to inspire others.
She explained: “About six years ago, I decided to take myself on a bread course as I was a keen home baker of cakes and biscuits. It turned out to be a life-changing moment because I loved the stuff. I thought bread was magical, the house smelt good and it tasted great. I continued baking, bought lots of books, volunteered in baking schools and was giving it away. Then my friends started saying I should charge for it. More people started hearing about my bread, so I thought I’d try the teaching side and it started to take off. I juggled it alongside full time work for a year, went to part-time and then jumped ship and it turned out to be the most surprising thing that’s happened in my life. The stars aligned and I managed to combine my teaching background with the thing I really loved!”
Overcoming challenges related to COVID
The pandemic put an abrupt halt to Liz’s bread making classes, meaning she had to quickly pivot to help her customers and keep business afloat.
Liz said: “Classes stopped overnight, but I knew how to make bread and I knew that people would need it. I went into lockdown with 60 customers and within two weeks, I had 450. I started baking five days a week and don’t think I’ve ever worked harder. My husband did my deliveries and helped me organise my systems because suddenly having so many customers meant I really needed organised systems. Computer programs have helped support the packing and delivery side long-term and make everything more organised. Because we went out to deliver, we pivoted really easily and quickly and could meet the demand, so people were just grateful. I also taught some online courses over lockdown.”
Having a positive impact in the community
Throughout lockdowns, Liz’s bread put a smile on customers’ faces, so she decided to go the extra mile to help out those that she could. As well as benefiting locals, this had the unexpected side effect of growing customer loyalty for Ma Baker.
Liz explained: “We were some of the only people that customers saw when we delivered bread. So we started delivering a bit more than just bread. We’d pick up milk for people if they were isolating and help people out with flour and yeast, so we became part of the community where we hadn’t been before. The produce I make is quality and people bought into me and my business. Being local, they could talk to me about the product in a way that you couldn’t in a supermarket. Food was one of the most important things in lockdown, so having quality bread on the table was always a treat and I feel really blessed that I had the skills. Once things began to open up, I was able to teach in person again, so I began teaching every weekend again and I bake for the food bank every Friday.”
Finding the right ingredients and suppliers
Liz explained the benefits of taking time to get to know suppliers, making sure they are the right fit and making sure they are suitable long-term.
She spoke about the importance of getting to know your suppliers: “Flour is my biggest ingredient and you get to know the people in the mills and try their flours. They’re local and British and I’ve built relationships with suppliers that grow their grain organically and ethically – these are the types of people that I want to support. During lockdown, there was a problem with flour, but the mills supported me and made sure I would get my flour, which I was very grateful for as they were having a tricky time managing their supplies. I get my flour from Shipton Mill in the Cotswolds and I get my wholemeal and rye from Northumberland Gilchesters.”
Top tips for growing a community online
Liz shares her top tips for building a loyal customer base online:
- Don’t be afraid to shout about what you do
“When I first started, I wondered who would even be interested in what I have to say. Somebody told me to just put my business hat on and talk about my bread and courses, so once I’d got my head around that, I found it much easier.”
- First-class photography
“Photographs of food are your calling card, so you must make sure your photography is good and looks appealing.”
- Show some personality
“When people come across my channels, I want them to come and learn with me. You must inject some personality on there to communicate what you do and why people should contact you.”
- Engage with people
“It’s so important to engage with people if they engage with you, so just have conversations and be kind.”
- Be patient
“Engagement, personality and being kind drive social media, but it does take a lot of time. Be careful that you don’t spend too long, but you have to be on it regularly. Social media has created a nice record to reflect on and I can see the difference between where I started and where I am now.“
- Utilise free resources
“There’s so much free support to help and guide you to learn how to use any platform now. Put the hours in and there’s so much available out there for small businesses. You just have to find it, sort it and make sure it will bring you value.”
What’s next for Ma Baker?
Ma Baker has relocated from London to Overton on Dee, North Wales. This new project will see the launch of the Ma Baker Bakery and Bread School, getting more people involved in the local area, while continuing to make great quality bread and classes accessible.
Liz spoke about the new project for Ma Baker with great passion, adding: “We’ve only gone and bought a bakery! It’s a big project as the shop has been empty for 20 years and the house has been empty for 10, so it needs a lot of work. I’m aiming to get the shop up and running sooner rather than later and I’ll be doing the same as I was in London. I’ll also let others use the space, whether they want to do a talk, or a tasting class, so it can become a foodie hub and give others the opportunity that I’ve had.”