CBIA BizCast: COBS Bread Bakes Success
In 1980, Roger and Leslie Gillespie founded Bakers Delight, a bakery in Melbourne, Australia.
In the 40-plus years since, that bakery has grown to be a business that includes more than 700 Bakers Delight and COBS Bread bakeries in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and now the United States.
“It’s a pretty simple concept,” COBS Bread USA vice president Karen Frost-Spokes told the CBIA BizCast.
“It’s really just about focusing on great bread, great customer service, and then connecting with the community and giving back.”
Frost-Spokes was part of the team that helped COBS expand in Canada, moving from Melbourne to Vancouver in 2003.
Since then, COBS has become a household name in Canada with more than 170 franchises across the country.
Recipe for Growth
“That was the name that they would say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go to COBS to get some bread,’” said Frost-Spokes’ daughter Zoe.
“Everybody would say that in my neighborhood. So it was cool how big COBS got and it was really nice to see.”
Frost-Spokes said COBS’ recipe for that growth comes down to the company’s core values.
“We provide phenomenal customer service that just can’t be matched from our samples and, and just product knowledge,” she said.
“I think the other key thing is we donate everything at the end of the day that’s not sold to different organizations.”
Frost-Spokes said since 2003 COBS has donated $560 million worth of unsold bread to more than 500 charities.
“The intent is to replicate that here in the Northeast,” she said.
Coming to Connecticut
COBS opened its first U.S. locations in Connecticut after hearing from a couple of Australian expatriates who saw an opportunity to open in the area.
“They sort of knocked on our door and said, ‘Let’s open here,’” Frost-Spokes said.
“We really evaluated the U.S. market and saw the need and so here we are.”
COBS’ first U.S. franchises opened in Stamford and Greenwich.
Their third location, in Westport, is set to open by the end of November with more locations in Connecticut planned for the next 12 months.
Frost-Spokes said Connecticut and the Northeast are the starting point to U.S. expansion.
“Just doing what we did similar to Canada,” she said. “Really sort of building a mass market and getting the brand recognition out there.”
‘Skin in the Game’
COBS is also building on its franchise model as it expands in Connecticut and the U.S.
Frost-Spokes said they will be offering the first 10 operators in the U.S. profit-sharing from day one.
“We find that you know, a bit of skin in the game from day one and knowing that this is going to be their bakery,” she said.
“You spend so much time at work, to be able to create that culture of a safe environment that’s inspiring and a fun place to work, I think it just makes people want to get out of bed.”
Frost-Spokes said the goal of all of their franchises is to become part of the fabric of their communities.
“It’s really about are you invested?” she said. “Are you invested in connecting with the community and giving back and getting involved in fundraisers and hiring the right people, locals, and really developing them into great leaders or whatever they want to do?”
“When people who join COBS, when they go through all that training, and you see how much fun they have, and then when they get their own bakery, you can see how accomplished they feel when they have it,” added Zoe.
“And it’s like, they feel they should feel so proud of themselves. They have their own bakery now. Like, that’s good.”
Investment and Ownership
In fact, it’s that sense of investment and ownership that actually helped lead to the COBS Bread name.
When the company first expanded to Canada, they learned the name Bakers Delight was taken.
But they realized that some of their locations in Australia were what they considered company-owned-bakeries or COBS.
Since then, the name has come to take on a few different meanings.
“It was Celebration and Opportunity Bring Success and Canada’s Own Bread Store,” she said.
“So now it’s Connecticut’s Own Bread Store!”
As COBS continues its expansion, Frost-Spokes said the focus will always be on creating a great product, and building great teams with a great culture.
“It can’t be a one person show, whether it’s a leadership group that we’re taking on now, or bakeries within their four walls,” she said.
“It’s risky, but I think we’ve got a great product out there.
“And so I think that the challenge that we have in front of us of educating the community as to what’s on offer, that’s probably the biggest task at hand.”
But, as Zoe pointed out, it’s a task that’s worthwhile.
“Everybody should know COBS Bread. It’s amazing,” she concluded.
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