While some operators might be inclined to wait a little longer before unpausing their expansion programmes, bakery chain Gail’s has demonstrated the belief it holds in the resilience of its business model by embarking on a series of new openings in targeted locations.
Founder Gail Mejia opened the first site in Hampstead High Street in 2005 and the recent launch of a branch in Reigate, Surrey has now taken the size of the portfolio to 69 locations.
Covid has certainly presented its fair share of challenges, but it has also highlighted the company’s ability to adapt and evolve.
Property director Brett Parker – who joined the business three years ago and also oversees decisions around kitchen equipment – says the profile of the business coming out of Covid has changed to meet the needs of the market.
“When I started we were very much working on a cafe-kind of model. Bakery was a big element, coffee was a big element, and it was about large seating areas and trying to create beautiful spaces that people want to come into and then serve them food.
“The difference that we have found with Covid is that we are much more focused over the last year and a half on food — almost a takeaway model but with seating. The driver of that is that we are a bakery — we just happen to have some seats.”
In many instances, including with its new high-profile site on London’s Buckingham Palace Road, customers can walk in through the door and complete their entire transaction without even stepping into the seated area to the rear.
That works perfectly during a time of Covid restrictions, but it also suits the customer that just wants to order food and go.
“A lot of people are now so used to just popping in somewhere, grabbing what they want and going, but you can still come and sit in.
“Reigate, Tunbridge Wells, Twickenham — these sites are all based on a model where the core shopping experience is right at the front of the shop and you can do all of that very simply without interacting with the seating areas. But we have always included the seating areas because we were always very keen on getting people back in.”
Gail’s has ambitions to reach 100 sites eventually although it’s not the type to bite off more than it can chew.
“Our way of growing is that we are not going to open 30 sites tomorrow,” explains Parker. “We do well at opening one store, bedding it in, then opening another one and bedding that in. It’s growth with caution. There is no real rush.”