DALLAS -- Tom Thumb here is making a giant commitment to bakery in its new perishables-dominated store, the first unit the retailer has built since it was acquired more than a year and a half ago by Randall's Food Markets, Houston, a leader in fresh foods merchandising.
Tom Thumb hasn't come up with a brand-new concept. Rather, it has taken a successful concept pioneered by other supermarkets -- most notably Randall's and Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. -- and executed it with aplomb.
That concept is a wide perishables section at the right of the store created to have the feel of a European market. Produce is piled high on wood tables, and back-room preparation is brought out in the open to create a sense of freshness and excitement. The bakery, a 100% scratch operation, especially animates the store as bakers decorate cakes, replenish displays and pull crusty loaves out of the ovens. The department runs along the far right wall, with a service case of decorated cakes and specialty items giving way toward the back of the store to self-service breads and rolls, and table and rack displays.
"It is a copy of a copy of a layout," said Neil Stern, a partner with McMillan/ Doolittle, Chicago, speaking of Tom Thumb's new format. "They just did it a little bit better than everybody else is doing."
Tom Thumb has been named the winner of the 1994 Retail Bakers of America/Supermarket News Leading Edge Award for bakery in the West for its new store at Preston Road and Beltline Road in Dallas. Another New Generation unit, as the format is called, is under construction in Plano, Texas, and a third is planned for 1995. What makes the new Tom Thumb bakery a winner, Stern said, is that all the criteria he set forth for Leading Edge Awards were met in the one store.
"At first glance, it appears that Tom Thumb is a copy of Randall's, which in turn is a copy of Wegmans' spectacular perishables concept. However, Tom Thumb executes spectacularly, and has done a superb job at delivering on practically every important element of the bakery. This full-scratch operation performs equally well with bread, pastry, cakes, pies and health-oriented product," Stern said.
He noted that in other marketing areas in the country, shoppers may already expect such a bakery. But in Dallas, this extensive department, which offers 500 items, is something new. "The customers were really excited about it," he said after a visit to the store. "It's still a very overwhelming experience for customers. It may be old for us, but it's new for Dallas."
Special notice goes to the variety of product offered and to the self-service racks of health-oriented items, which a bakery staffer told SN on a recent visit need to be replenished three times a day. Items here include fat-free, reduced fat and sugar-free muffins.
Crusty breads are also a standout. They are merchandised in wicker baskets in a roped-off area in front of the open preparation area, which sets them apart from the self-service items. When SN visited, samples of a hearty grain bread were set out on the bakery counter.
While many retailers have a decorating station, the Tom Thumb store has two. One is for cake decorating, and the other is for rolling out dough and assembling pies. These show areas draw a big crowd. The pies are baked in glass dishes, an extra touch for customers, Stern said.
Getting the bakery up and running in terms of training and operations was one of the retailer's biggest challenges in realizing the new format, according to company officials who gave SN a tour of the store in February. The product mix at Tom Thumb's bakeries in its conventional-format stores is only 20% scratch, with the rest bake-off.
To bring the new bakery on line, top staffers were sent to Randall's in Houston to train. When the entire staff is hired for the department -- a daunting task, officials said -- the bakery will have 85 employees. Help also came from the bakery's suppliers, especially for the European bread program.
The bakery is open 24 hours a day, with three shifts of workers. As Starla Burkhalter, the store's bakery manager, put it, "We never stop."