Creativity rises: A&J King Artisan Bakers finds new ways to do business
Andy King came into 2020 thinking this was going to be the best year for the 14-year old business he and his wife Jackie run, A&J King Artisan Bakers: it already had solid wholesale accounts, a national account with Blue Bottle Coffee, and a production facility servicing its retail location along with other restaurants and eateries. The company had plans to expand and was even creating menus for a potential seasonal beer and wine license.
Then COVID-19 hit, bringing everything to a screeching halt. King likens the experience to a video game. “I told some of younger gamer employees that when it came to our business, we started the game over,” said King. ”We just cranked up the difficulty setting.”
But they’ve learned how to pivot the business, developing creative solutions to new challenges. A&J King Artisan Bakers has introduced curbside pickup, new meal kits and baked offerings, redesigned online ordering, removed the tables and limited the number of customers to its retail location, and installed plexiglass separating the customers from employees.
“We have a quick service pickup table where if you place your order ahead, you can just step right into the door, grab your order and step right out quickly,” said King. “It’s a completely different place than what we’re used to. We thrive on hustle and bustle and a cozy atmosphere where people are gathered together, sharing space. And that’s completely different now.
The new operating model – along with decreased capacity, staff, and revenues – are part of the new normal that small businesses across the Commonwealth are facing. King recognizes that local support of small businesses like his has a wider impact on other community institutions.
“I’m really supportive of spending locally and the state’s My Local MA campaign – I think anything you can do to encourage people to buy local is fantastic,” explains King. “It makes a bigger difference than people could possibly think. I think people realize intrinsically that if you buy locally, it helps a local business. And if that business is responsible as well – meaning it sources locally – that helps five local businesses. It cannot be stressed enough about the importance of purchasing locally when possible.”
Andy and his wife Jackie are continuing to find ways to reinvent their products and services. For example, A&J King Artisan Bakersis introducing new meal kits and pastries and finds a silver lining in the ability to experiment.
“What’s interesting is that it’s given us a chance to be a little bit more creative,” elaborated King. “We’re finding out the type of stuff we may want to take with us when things get back to normal. The pandemic knocked us a little bit out of our comfort zone in terms of what we’re going to offer, but when this is over, we’ll be a stronger, more diversified company. It’s a question of: how long will it take to get there?”