Baker’s Delight : Rise of an empire

Some franchises just work; offer a decent product, made with love and the customer in mind and you have a winning recipe. For Roger Gillespie, the founder of bakery giant Bakers Delight, his winning recipe has transcended continents and, according to BRW, has made him one of the richest men in Australia. Story by Jonathan Jackson.

When Bakers Delight opened its doors for business in 1980, there was, according to founder Roger Gillespie, a need for product that was made with enthusiasm and that invoked community spirit. “There were a lot of bakeries, but none that were delivering their product with the love that we were delivering,” Gillespie says. “We saw a gap in the market and we filled it.”

Gillespie is a fourth generation baker and when he and wife Lesley (along with business partner Gary Stephenson) opened the first Bakers Delight in Melbourne suburb Hawthorn in 1980, they opened with the commitment that was embedded in Gillespie’s DNA by his forefathers. “What we wanted to do was reflect and live up to our name; we are bakers who live to delight and we want to delight every customer with every product that comes out of the oven.”

Gillespie says the business is built on a win-win philosophy. There is a commitment to each and every customer; the bread is real and made on site and everyone from the franchisor, to the suppliers, to the customers has to be in a winning position because we want to be as good as can be at what we do. That commitment to quality meant that by 1988, the Gillespies owned 15 bakeries. The model worked, the formula was right. It was time to franchise.

“In 1988 we decide to franchise vigorously,” Gillespie says. “We implemented basic training systems, recruitment strategies and legal agreements. It has been constant refinement since.” The franchise model saw quick expansion occur and by 1991, Bakers Delight boasted 43 bakeries across Victoria. In the next two years, Bakers Delight expanded to 200 bakeries and just ten years later, 600. Today there are over 700 bakeries across three countries.

The first franchise outside Victoria was opened in Adelaide, South Australia. By 1993 stores were popping up in NSW, Queensland and West Australia. In 1995, the business opened its doors in New Zealand and in 2003, expansion into Canada occurred under the  ‘COBS Bread’ brand.

Gillespie says the reason expansion has been so successful is due to authenticity. “I think we are authentic in what we do; we set about training people the best way we can. We do a good job in marketing, store set up and every aspect of our business and we are constantly looking at ways and means of improving to ensure the franchisees grow and their businesses make a profit.”

What sets this franchise apart from many others is the belief that franchisees are not hired, they join the system. “They are self employed and self motivated,” Gillespie says. “They have to have a winning attitude, be energetic and always look at new way of doing things, which is the Bakers Delight way. You don’t need a Bakers background, many do have one, but the training system is so robust that we can turn anyone into a franchisee.” Franchisees train for 16 weeks minimum, while many train for a little longer as their stores are prepared. However like any business, the real learning is on the job. Training prepares you to be a Bakers Delight partner, when you’re n the job you learn about what it is to be in the trenches as a Bakers delight partner. With everybody on board, working towards one message and culture it made international expansion all that easier.

“We went to NZ in 1996. It was close to Australia and a logical move. Canada happened 11 years ago. We researched all the English-speaking countries and created a matrix of measures to fit what we needed. We found that Canada was the right fit.” Confident that consumers would consume, the hurdles that had to be overcome surrounded local laws and cultural subtleties. As Roger says, when you move overseas you don’t know what to expect until certain things confront you. “Canada is close to us culturally, but from a staffing point of view there are very different expectations about how to be treated, directed and managed and you have to understand those differences and make sure the relationship comes back to the win-win philosophy.” It all comes back to a community-minded spirit. When the staff are treated well the customers benefit. Everything works toward a culture of delight.

At home, even those who are operating the proprietary owned stores are being encouraged and supported to one day operate their own franchises. “We’ve taken a couple hundred young people, who haven’t had sufficient funds and trained them. We then help them to get into their own bakery.” With so many franchisees, how does Gillespie keep his finger on the pulse of what is going on? “You have to treat everyone well. You have to have reporting lines that are clear. You have to take an honest approach to doing everything and have clear expectations. Everyone has a job to do and we give them the freedom to do it.” This is allows franchisees to build rapport with customers.

“We’re local in every community and so we have a relationship with the local community. That’s a big advantage and we pride ourselves on having the freshest bread we can have to deliver to the community.” Gillespie also puts faith in his suppliers to help him deliver fresh product. “We work very closely with all of our suppliers. We have had the same packaging company for 30 years and the same flour supplier, Manildra, for 13 years. Even the charity Bakers Delight has been affiliated with – the Breast Cancer Network of Australia – has been a partner for 15 years. “We are long terms players who don’t switch and change on a whim.

All our suppliers are key suppliers, even those who supply our olives from Greece.” Again it comes down to the win-win scenario. Keep the suppliers happy, the staff happy and the customers happy and you have the ingredients for a successful business. “If standards drop, sales drop. That’s what we are here for. To make sure the standards are as good as they could and should be and that they are better tomorrow. “Quality is a challenge and making sure there are enough good quality people. The biggest hurdle is getting the right people into the right jobs and getting the wrong ones out.”

There were talks of a buy-out a few years ago, but the Gillespies held onto the business so that their adult children could take it to the next level. The Gillespie family own 100% of the business to enable them to maintain control so that they can function ethically; this is what their children will do, this is what they have done for four generations. The plan now is to open many more stores in existing regions, which Gillespie knows will happen because since 1980 he has seen the growth and been there everyday to make it happen.

“We have had a partnership with Roger Gillespie and Bakers Delight for 13 years or so, which is much closer than a regular supply relationship. Roger and his wife, Leslie, have achieved high growth for the company through hard work and innovation, which I hope we have been a part of. Bakers Delight’s expansion in Australia and Canada shows that through Roger’s leadership the company has a unique offering and is at the leading edge of the baking industry.” – John Honan, Managing Director Manildra Group


Books are an important part of a CEO’s life. Currently Gillespie is reading Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton has been called “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none” for saving the lives of the twenty-seven men stranded with him in the Antarctic for almost two years. Today the public can’t get enough of this once-forgotten explorer, and his actions have made him a model for great leadership and masterful crisis management. Now, through anecdotes, the diaries of the men in his crew, and Shackleton’s own writing, Shackleton’s leadership style and time-honored principles are translated for the modern business world. Written by two veteran business observers and illustrated with ship photographer Frank Hurley’s masterpieces and other rarely seen photos, this practical book helps today’s leaders follow Shackleton’s triumphant example.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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