How a home baker has used digital technology to build a growing bakery business with an order book featuring a host of big-name brands.
“It was definitely a giant leap of faith to scale up in the middle of a global pandemic, especially since we had to close completely for four months, but we took the risk and it’s fuelled our expansion and won us some huge orders”, said Steph Giordano, 31, founder of up-and-coming Bethnal Green bakery, Baked by Steph.
Before the pandemic, Steph had been baking batches of cookies from her kitchen. A couple of years into juggling orders alongside her full-time job in digital design, she made the decision to quit the day job and dedicate her time to the bakery business. A year on, in August 2020, she then took the brave decision to move the business into a converted industrial railway arch in East London so that she could scale up. The move put her at the heart of a vibrant food and drink community on Paradise Row, curated by arches landlord The Arch Company.
Despite the cliff-edge nature of footfall, which has dropped by 40 per cent in central London, due to the on-again, off-again lockdowns and Tier changes, the bakery business is booming. While retailers and traditional bakers have struggled to respond Steph was already set up to prosper. She said: “I designed the business to be digitally led, with ecommerce driving our sales and technology at the forefront of our creative and operational processes. We’re quite removed from the traditional concept of a bakery with a physical high street storefront, which has really helped to insulate us from some of the fallout from Coronavirus. We didn’t have to spend lots of time diversifying or setting up new digital sales channels, because we already had them. We’re quite well suited to a world where footfall is low-to-non-existent.”
Scaling-up for success
The continuing popularity of baking and baked goods, with the 2020 series of Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off delivering the station’s highest audience share of the year, has helped Belfast-born Steph turn her hobby into a successful start-up business. She said: “I grew up in a very food orientated household – my Mum could bake anything without having to look at a recipe! It was natural for me to take up baking as a hobby. I never intended for it to become a business, but with the help of Instagram, quite early on I got an order from a big brand wanting 600 cookies for an event the next week. I had to turn-it down because I couldn’t fulfil the order as a one-woman band. That’s when I knew there was something there and that I’d need to scale up to make a success of it.”
Moving into the railway arch allowed Baked by Steph to expand to a team of nine and install larger, more innovative machinery into its production methods. “We’ve got specialist design software, stencilling machines, 3D printers and we launched our own YouTube channel. It’s been a hectic year and we’ve grown faster than I ever anticipated, but we’re much better equipped now to be able to take on larger orders. Just before Christmas we secured a huge order for 10,000 cookies from the jewellery brand, Tiffany and Co. As a small business it really means a lot to us when big companies trust us to take their iconic brands and create something unique for them. Every purchase from a small business really does make us do a little happy dance!” The company has delivered custom designs for Benefit Cosmetics, Facebook, Disney and Marc Jacobs, among others.
Like many other small businesses caught up in the pandemic, Steph applied for government and local authority grant and loan schemes but was ineligible for the support. She said: “We fell through every loophole you can imagine, so we didn’t qualify for any help at all, which was tough. But it spurred us on to set up new sales opportunities. We started offering international shipping much earlier than we originally planned so that we could capture the market for sending a little love in the post over the festive period. It was lovely to help people who were apart from their loved ones send a little something to let their friends and family know they were thinking of them.”
Baked by Steph’s unique offering and digitally led approach means the business is all set to continue its rapid growth, despite the challenges of operating during a pandemic. “What we do is very different to anyone else in the UK market. It’s very visually driven and we can deliver more custom design elements because of our use of technology. We can make anything into an edible element of our bakes, so we can have much more fun with what we do and really deliver the customers’ vision. It’s an exciting time and I’m really excited about the next part of our journey.”