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Bakers went back to basics to make a crust in changing times

Renowned family bakers Hindleys celebrates 120 years in business. Justine Halifax discovers the secret of its success.

Duncan Hindley, who runs Hindleys Bakery

There's an old proverb that states “from humble beginnings come great things” and it’s certainly proven to be the case where Staffordshire bakers Hindleys is concerned.

For after taking over a small bakery in Rugeley on April Fool’s Day in 1893, Joseph Hindley’s move proved to be anything but foolish – instead it was to sow the seeds for a long family tradition to begin.

After paying £45.10 for stock, good will and equipment, the father-of-three began trading on April 6, with deliveries made by horse and cart, and his first day’s takings were recorded as £1 8s 6d.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now 120 years later the business is in the hands of fourth generation bakers, brother and sister team Duncan Hindley and Jackie Beaumont, who are proud to continue in the footsteps of their father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather.

“My great-grandfather must have been so excited on opening his bakery doors for the very first time. Could he have possibly imagined we would be celebrating our 120th birthday in 2013?” says Duncan.

Bread from Hindleys Bakery
Bread from Hindleys Bakery
 

The Lichfield father-of-two was 23 when he joined the fold and started work in the bakery in 1990.

“The bakery business is a way of life really more than a job, and it was a very different operation when I joined. I was dropped in at the deep end a little bit really,” he adds.

“At the time we were producing large volumes of products for our own shops as well as producing a full fresh range every day for the Somerfield supermarket chain.”

But the 46-year-old’s first taste of working alongside his father Graham and his uncle Keith in the bakery had been many years earlier at the tender age of seven.

“The first time I helped out at the bakery I was tasked with packing mince pies for five hours.

“That was in about 1973 and I was paid 25p. I really thought that I owned the world, as I thought that was a huge amount of money at the time.”

A later childhood visit was to prove far more amusing.

“We used to have these large buttercream bowls. I was too small to reach to the bottom to get the last bits out and as I stretched to try to reach them I upended and fell in,” he says, laughing.

Memories of the good old days extend to the bakery’s loyal customers too, who regale fond childhood memories of parents buying bread and pineapple creams from Hindleys.

From humble beginnings in Rugeley with Joseph at the helm, the business grew to employ 230 staff across 18 shops, including Boldmere, Birmingham, Walsall, Stafford, Cannock, Lichfield and Tamworth, by 1999.

Duncan Hindley, who runs Hindleys Bakery, gives reporter Justine Halifax some tips on bread-making.
Duncan Hindley, who runs Hindleys Bakery, gives reporter Justine Halifax some tips on bread-making.
 

But a change in shopping habits was on the horizon and it would lead the business to move in a different direction.

As the high street started to decline, with more people shopping in supermarkets, tough decisions needed to be made if the business, which had high employment and overhead costs, was to survive.

It was in 2002 that Duncan brought in his sister, mother-of-two Jackie, a former marketing account manager who lives in Kidderminster, to help him restructure the business.

Instead of trying to follow the supermarkets and chains like Greggs, the pair decided to create their own niche by returning to the good old days and getting back to basics.

It saw them cut the number of shops down to three and return to baking everything on site.

Jackie, aged 49, says: “In the 60s the business expanded to the point where we had a large purpose-built bakery in Rugeley and 18 shops across the West Midlands, but that wasn’t where we wanted to be and the margins weren’t great either.

“And coupled with the fact that people had started going to supermarkets to buy their bread instead of the high street, Duncan, who was running the business on his own back then, knew he had to change if the business was to survive.

“He brought me in to help restructure the business and over the next few years we made a huge transition. Now we have just three shops in Lichfield, Birmingham and Boldmere – and that’s it.

“We’re now a more traditional business in terms of bread process and have introduced speciality breads and fermentation breads. It’s more a craft business/artisan bakery which is what we wanted it to be.

“We are proud of what we have achieved – although at times it’s been a real headache.”

Duncan, who can be seen baking bread through a window between the cafe and bakery in Lichfield six days a week, adds: “It took us four years to realise our aim to change the business and at times it was traumatic and stressful.

Duncan’s grandmother and great aunt outside Hindleys bakery in the 1920s.
Duncan’s grandmother and great aunt outside Hindleys bakery in the 1920s.
 

“But while other people would have pulled the plug and opened in a different guise we worked through it and did it morally right because we looked after the staff we had to let go.”

The staff who have stayed at their side are experienced and loyal having been with the bakers for decades.

While some staff have been with the company for 15 years, their head confectioner has been with them for 45 years and head decorator for over 30 years.

And attention to detail isn’t just confined to the bakery itself.

Keeping their feet on the shop floor is also what Duncan and Jackie say is a key to their success, because it means they can be flexible and respond to anything that needs changing swiftly.

Throughout the transition of the business they achieved a key aim which was to retain their loyal customer base, and now the pair look to their stalwart customers to help them in the development of some of their new products too.

The decision to get back to basics has certainly been a recipe for success for Hindleys, which makes marking its 120th anniversary this year all the more significant.

While their bustling cafe is thriving in its own right with homemade lunches and sweet treats on offer, so too is their homemade bread and cake sales in their adjoining shop.

A typical Friday will see Duncan and his team make 150 rustic boules (round white loaves), 150 malted loaves and 80 wholemeal loaves and bake them overnight ready for sale in their shop on Saturdays.

The icing on the cake, which further proved the decision to reduce the size of their bakery operation was the right one, came last December when Hindleys was crowned the Best Bakery in the West Midlands in ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery competition.

Jackie adds: “We are very grateful to have this heritage which we wanted to build on but reinvent at the same time.

“We have taken it back to when our grandfather started the business and baked everything on site and that’s part of the story that we are developing now.”

Norman Brookes, 74, went on one of Duncan Hindley’s bread-making courses.
Norman Brookes, 74, went on one of Duncan Hindley’s bread-making courses.
 

New artisan bread-making courses launched

Getting back to basics has also seen Hindleys launch its own bread-making courses which have proved a huge success with master bread baker Duncan at the helm.

This year, on the back of the success of its introduction to bread-making course which has been running for three years, it launched a new artisan bread- making course to coincide with its 120th anniversary.

The move followed calls from customers and budding bread- makers, wanting to learn how to make artisan bread rather than bread machine style loaves.

It’s believed that programmes featuring celebrity bread makers like Paul Hollywood and The Baker Boys have helped bolster interest in bread making, particularly in men.

“Men seem to have a particular interest in baking and bread making now too which is a relative surprise, and I think it’s partly due to the Paul Hollywood-effect,” says Jackie.

“We launched the course earlier this year due to demand of people coming on the basic introduction to bread-making courses and wanting to take it that step further.”

Grandfather-of-nine Norman Brookes, of Sutton Coldfield, has just recently taken up bread- making at the age of 74, baking weekly loaves of bread for him and his wife Joan.

He has been making bread after attending the introduction to bread-making course.

A former Esso engineer travelling the world, Norman, who remembers as a child his parents buying bread from Hindleys Bakery in Sutton, has now completed the artisan bread-making course too.

“You can really taste the difference,” he says.

* For more information on courses visit www.hindleys-bakers.co.uk or telephone 01543 263031 or email info@hindleys-bakers.co.uk.

 
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