Influencers & Profiles

Steve Plarre

Cara Waters /

steve-plarre-100The two families that founded the Ferguson Plarre Bakehouse parted ways earlier this year and the Plarre family bought out the Ferguson Family in a battle that ended up in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Ferguson Plarre’s newly minted chief executive talks to SmartCompany about the changes he is making now he’s in control, how he dealt with a Facebook crisis and what he’s doing to attract the kids who these days don’t like getting up early to bake.

Ferguson Plarre Bakehouse

Based: Melbourne

Age: 39

Position: Chief executive and co-owner of Ferguson Plarre

How have things been going since your family took control of Ferguson Plarre three months ago after the split of the Ferguson and Plarre families?

Really good, actually. We’ve had lots of ideas we’ve wanted to put forward for a while, whether they be new products or marketing and bits and pieces. So we’ve been eagerly putting that together, as well as putting together our retail sales and franchising team.

There’s always a bit of  change when you get to senior managers moving on, but I think that’s all been done really positively.

We’ve had a really nice brand refresh on our store and we have a couple of stores being built in that design now that still honours the history and tradition of the Ferguson Plarre brand.

I think we’ll do a better job of communicating some of the brand attributes around quality, real ingredients, sustainability and those kinds of things.

How is the business going? What was your turnover in the last financial year and what are you aiming for this year?

It was hitting about $20 million last year and this year our target is $23-$24 million.

How are you going to achieve that growth?

We’ve got both Ferguson Plarre and the Puckles brand, and between those two we plan to add 20 stores and store-on-store growth of between 5% and 10%.

And how are you going to get that store-on-store growth?

We’re repurposing our marketing by having a strategic marketing plan. In the past there wasn’t a lot of strategy around our marketing. So we are going through a testing phase of what’s working, and we’ve got a very strong culture around our marketing metrics. If we’re going to spend some money or run some campaigns on radio or in print, we are looking at what effect is that having on average transaction value.

We’re also looking at new products and using impulse type purchases like cupcakes around our register that help get the average transaction value up and that are still complementary to our range and still made by us. We can now measure those transactions through our new point of sales system, and when I say ‘new’, we never actually had a system-wide point of sales system.

All of our stores were running registers, and so with all of our new stores they’ll come bundled with our new point of sales system, which comes complete with a loyalty program. Our loyalty program is called the Baker’s Four Club and basically it rewards people for buying four products.

We find that in our Puckles business, the average transaction value for our Baker’s Four members is 75% higher than a non-Baker’s Four Club member. The program comes coupled with an iPhone app that tells them how many points they’ve got. What are we talking about is refocused marketing, point of sales system, loyalty card program, product range, and analysing our metrics.

All of those things will help us know if we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to average transaction value. And it’ll also help us differentiate in the market to potential franchisees. There’s a lot of franchisers out there.

I think something that’s unique to Ferguson Plarre particularly is the depth of history – we’re 111 years old this weekend. My brother and I are fourth generation bakers. We’ve got a lot of skin in the business, we’re foodies at heart.

We do find a lot of our competitors these days are a little bit better at their marketing than they are at product, and there’s a lot of third party supply; whereas everything that Ferguson Plarre makes, we make ourselves, which means we have total control over making sure that we use fresh cream and no mock cream.

We’re still using eggs in our custard tarts instead of the powdery stuff that you get in a lot of products. We’re using hormone-free beef because we’ve got a great relationship with the farmers, as well as free range eggs and free range chicken.

So it’s those kinds of things we’re trying to do a better job of communicating, as well as being a family business, which is a little bit contrary to the glitz and the corporate shine that a lot of franchises have.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is a former SmartCompany editor. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter for the Financial Times' website and worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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