Perspectives South

Not Just Baking Bread At Oxfords!

Oxfords Bakery was established by Frank Oxford in 1911 at Alweston, near Sherborne in Dorset. Today, fourth generation Steven is at the helm, a far cry from the DJ lifestyle in Ibiza he did before!

What does your family business do?

Oxfords Bakery is a 4th generation bakers, still making Traditional English bread and cakes using the same methods (and ovens) as Great Grandfather Frank Oxford in 1911.

How did you get involved?

I was always expected to join the family business, not by my family, but by all of our customers, suppliers and friends! Naturally this deterred me even more. I turned from music loving teenager in to a professional Nightclub and event DJ and, by my early 20’s had even established a name as an agent for other music acts.

During a tour of New Zealand and, actually, right in the middle of a set I was playing during a street festival for Red Bull at the ‘Americas Cup’ yacht race in Auckland, I made up my mind that I wanted to not just work for the family business, but to develop it and make it in to what I believe it should be – the most popular bakery in our county, Dorset. So next time you see a ‘DJ’ at work, wondering what’s on his or her mind, it may not be quite what you’d expect!!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An exact replica of my father!

What are your first memories of the family business?

The first memory of the family business for me was being allowed behind ‘the table’ to mould cottage rolls with my Dad at the Royal Bath and West Show when I was about 5 years old, and then while he was pre-occupied, one of the bakers lifting me up and out of the way to sit on the flour sacks as I was probably slowing up the works.

This was the first feeling of burning desire to show what I could do for the business. Needless to say, next year as a great big six year old I was very visibly shadowing my father and helping bake whilst wearing a rather fetching t shirt my mum had provided saying :Get fresh with your local baker’ on it!

The other memory that my brother and sister share with me though is the smell and clatter of the tins as we walked into the bake house when we would stay there with our grandparents. Its still the same sounds sights and smells today, but you don’t appreciate them until you’ve been away from baking for a couple of weeks. Good excuse for a holiday I suppose!!

What values are important in your family/family business?

Our motto has always been ‘quality and tradition’ I think if we maintain these two things then the actual boring business side of things are much the same as most other businesses. It is those two things that keep us unique. There are a few good bakeries I can think of that only have one of these attributes, and no matter how hard our competition try, it is impossible to emulate what we do. (Unless you also have an original Victorian/Edwardian bakery to work from!)

What is the best thing about being a family business?

The support framework when things get , inevitably, tight or don’t go as planned. We don’t set ourselves many targets for success as a family business, we do , however, know how to celebrate our achievements though. An invite to ‘Oxfest’ would prove that to anyone!!

And the worst?

Imagine putting in the best financial year in 100 years, exceeding all expectations, growing and developing at a faster rate than you could ever have expected… and then find a post it note with a complaint from your own Mum because you’ve lost a petrol receipt or because your office looks a bit messy! For me, that is about as bad as it gets though – I’m afraid, there are no horror stories here!

What is the best thing about your working day?

Seeing somebody walking down the street clearly enjoying a product from an ‘Oxford bag’. Also, hearing a tale from a customer who says that one of your products is their ‘favourite food’. I only need to hear that once a year to get me out of bed in the mornings. A real pleasure.

What is your proudest family business achievement?

Our centenary year has to be up there. Shared by all of us proudly, as you can imagine. My father decide that he wanted to take the business to 100 years, come hell or high water. This doesn’t sound like a great ambition until you realise he decided that 51 years ago!! I had the good fortune to meet Richard Branson last year and even he said: “ now that is a real achievement” You can’t argue with that really!

Is there a next generation waiting in the wings to take over?

Ha Ha, there is now but only just as they have only just been born but there is absolutely no way on earth that I would ever pressure or even suggest my children be involved in the business though. Look forward to teaching the values of hard work, finance and reward, but they are way down the list after things like messing about, laughing, running around with your arms out like an aeroplane for 3 hours solid etc as life is there to be enjoyed first and foremost.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing family businesses?

Copy cat businesses is a real threat to our sector as there isn’t much legislation as to what real bread actually is. Despite the Real Bread Campaign doing a good job of promoting small and honest bakery businesses, they are dwindling. In fact, there were approximately 20,000 small bakeries in the UK 25 years ago and there are now only about 3,000 left.

Supermarkets can use words like ‘fresh,’ ‘craft’ and ‘wholesome’ at will! We have some local competition that even has a sign in the window saying ‘traditional artisan breads’ yet they are made on a plant/production line!! It does grate a bit when you have given up nearly every Friday night of your life to actually do it properly! Rant over!

What words do you associate with family businesses?

Passion. Values. Ethics. Tradition.

Words Of wisdom – What piece of advice would you pass on to someone thinking about joining the family business?

DADS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT!!! Knowing when they are not, and being able to make subtle changes, is the key to success.

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