Brooks Marsh, owner of Illinois-based Mahomet IGA, decided several years ago that his store needed experts to set it apart. “If we could bring in experts to make our store special in certain areas, we would do that, rather than doing it halfway ourselves,” he explains.
One of those departments sorely in need of expert intervention was the bakery, which frankly lacked pizzazz.
“We’d almost given up on bakery a few years ago,” Marsh admits. (The store also rents coffee bar space to a local barista and a clothing area that sells items featuring the local high school’s logo and mascot, a bulldog.)
To raise the bar and create something unique, the store entered into a partnership with a local cake decorator, Lori Martin, who had made a name for herself in the wedding cake industry but needed a kitchen. Thus, Cakes by Lori at IGA was born.
While her business is always marketed as Cakes by Lori at IGA and her sales are rung up separately, Martin is an employee of the store — she earns a wage and a percentage of her cake sales — and with her expertise in the department, the quality of products overall was raised and category sales have increased across the board.
The result is the best bakery in town, according to Marsh. Mahomet IGA offers a full-line bakery selling everything from breads and rolls to the wedding cakes that Martin is known for. The additional sales also required the store to hire another decorator to handle everyday decorated cakes and simpler special-occasion cakes.
“Before, people would come to us and get a tray of cookies for graduation, and now that tray is of bulldogs or stars,” Marsh notes. ”All of a sudden, those cookies are $2 apiece instead of $3.99 for a dozen.
“The fresh side of the store, including bakery, is the key to the future,” he adds.