Just over a year ago in February 2020, family business Bradfords Bakers and sister companies Send Them Cupcakes and Send Them Balloons operated from one location near Glasgow, in Scotland. There were six full time staff members, who baked and hand-decorated cupcakes, inflated and boxed balloons, and arranged a selection of gift hampers.
They prepared between seventy and eighty gifts for delivery every day, which were collected by a courier in the evening, set to arrive to their recipients the next day.
Bradfords Bakers was first founded in 1924 by Hugh Bradford and his sons. For years, the business had just one premises that would move around every few years to different Glasgow locations. Small staff teams kept the bakery going, serving bread and gateaux to the locale.
Later in the 20th century, the business saw massive expansion as multiple locations were opened. In the new millennium, focus was placed on innovation such as in 2006 when the online branch of the bakery was founded, enabling the bakery to service consumers nationwide.
In 2012, Bradfords Bakers created the Bakery ATM, which was a vending machine that provided freshly baked and decorated cupcakes to anyone who crossed its path in Glasgow’s St Enoch’s Centre.
Unfortunately, the company was hit hard by 2008’s banking crisis which led to its stores starting to close.
Bradfords Bakers, then 88 years old as a company, proved resilient and manoeuvred to fall back on its online branch. In 2013, the last Bradfords Bakers bricks-and-mortar store closed on a Friday, and it was fully active in its new and current form the following Tuesday.
Now, it is managed by fourth generation Bradford, Claire, along with her husband James McGoldrick. In 2014 they founded Send Them Balloons and Send Them Cupcakes, aiming simply to reach new customers by telling them they deliver balloons and cupcakes.
This came from evolution; as an e-commerce company, Bradfords Bakers was no longer the bakery it once was. It shifted to a gift company that was recognised for its hampers. So, James and Claire decided to spotlight their other offerings with their own small businesses.
Less than a hundred orders fulfilled by six people feels like a distant memory now, even though it was only a year ago: everything has changed dramatically since lockdowns and travel restrictions rolled out across the UK. When non-essential shops as well as pubs, cafés and restaurants closed, the demand for Bradfords Bakers services skyrocketed, as did the need for its sister companies.
Consumers were unable to visit the high street shops where they would buy gifts for the likes of birthdays, graduations, engagements, and other occasions; additionally, they couldn’t travel to give the gift either. So, Bradfords Bakers fitted well as a replacement as it delivered gifts directly to their recipients.
As boredom set in while restrictions persisted, people became hungry for the experiences they were missing out on from the outside world. Afternoon teas catapulted straight to the top of the list of most popular offerings for the bakery, as customers could allow their own imaginations to set the limits for their days in: with an afternoon tea, they could create a fun and unique day in for the family, or a midday date.
As such, Bradfords Bakers, Send Them Cupcakes, and Send Them Balloons saw massive growth. The family-owned business is currently operating at 350% and has seen incredible increases in conversion across different groups of customers.
In 55–64-year-olds, there has been an increase in conversion of 180%, and 20% in those aged 64 and older. James recognises that this change has taken place as consumers have had to adjust to online shopping, where they may have been reticent to do so before lockdowns.
This increase in growth and orders has allowed James and Claire to double their full-time staff size from six to 12; this manpower was needed to meet the demand they were facing.
Now, even on quiet days, everyone onsite is kept busy as the average number of orders received on a given day has more than doubled; now they prepare up to 200 gifts for delivery each day.
Fast forward to March 2021 and 200 orders per day is merely the calm before the storm; as national holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day approach, the business goes into overdrive to meet the massively increased level of demand they receive.
In the three days before Mother’s Day 2021, Bradfords Bakers, Send Them Balloons, and Send Them Cupcakes prepared nearly 2,000 gifts for nationwide delivery.
Today Bradfords Bakers employs 12 staff members, but not all are there to bake and decorate cakes or blow-up balloons – James oversees the upstairs office where he manages any corporate orders, their customer helpdesk and anything else that keeps the company afloat. With him is the Bradfords Bakers customer services manager, Megan, and public relations executive, Holly.
When the company is as busy as it was before Mother’s Day, it’s all hands-on deck: James and Holly will put aside their regular work to head downstairs and help with the orders that need to go out. Megan will also lend her time but prioritises her communications with their customers to make sure their needs are met, and queries are answered.
The staff, who are one team, will work together, staying on late to make sure all the gifts are sent for delivery in a timely manner, and to prepare whatever they can for the next day, as to get a head start.
It ends up being a great opportunity to unite the staff members who usually don’t get to see each other often; as they prepare hampers and box cupcakes, they get to catch up and share a laugh. Through this pandemic, while so many of us have been kept separate from our families and friends, this human connection has been vital and endlessly valuable.
Busy times like these are ultimately difficult; it means a whole day of rushing about, being on your feet, working hard to make sure no one is disappointed. James places importance the birthdays and other occasions they help their customers celebrate – so many gifts now are being ordered by the likes of grandparents to grandchildren and vice versa. He and his staff are happy to know that they are doing something to ease the stress and tension everyone is going through while lockdowns are still in place.
Ahead of these holidays, when the business is as busy as it gets, James and Claire must turn the online store off at a certain point as they reach capacity for orders – so many come in, and at a certain point, they have to start turning customers away. Ordering in advance is vital when pursuing a Bradfords Bakers, Send Them Cupcakes, or Send Them Balloons gift as they regularly experience a massive increase in volume ahead of holidays.
This level of chaos isn’t reserved purely for holidays: Bradfords Bakers welcome large corporate orders and did so ahead of Christmas from different employers who wanted to send their employees festive hampers. They wanted to do this to say thank you for a years’ hard work during lockdown.
Although the bakery was already extremely busy before the holiday, James and Claire noted that Christmas 2020 was probably the most wildly different Christmas most people had ever experienced. So, they and their staff accepted that they would be working hard through the season to ensure that their customers all over the UK were cheered by gifts.
The pandemic has brought challenges for the businesses as they’ve had to drastically change the way they operate to meet the new volume of orders being received, but James and Claire are grateful for the security that comes with such high demand. As restrictions begin to ease and lockdowns are lifted, staff are looking forward to experiencing some normality in their personal lives.
Still, James and Claire implore consumers nationwide not to forget the e-commerce businesses that got them through the stresses and boredoms of lockdowns; the ones who provided some fun and excitement when nothing else was available.
With the continued support of their customers, Bradfords Bakers, Send Them Balloons, and Send Them Cupcakes hopes to see continued growth, and hope to use any downtime for new product development and further innovation.