Jim Skinner of Skinner Baking talks about his family business's big bet.
In April 2009, we told the story of the James Skinner Baking Company, a 25-year-old wholesale bakery that had grown slowly but consistently by selling unbranded baked goods to supermarkets and national brands. But in late 2007, the company's owner, Jim Skinner, announced that he wanted to steer the family business in a new direction: to start selling under its own brand name. Skinner hired a marketing chief to develop a brand strategy, but the three-person sales team pushed back, fearing that creating a brand would anger long-term customers. After much debate, the sales team relented and began pitching customers on switching to products carrying the James Skinner Baking Company brand name.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAID
Heather Henstock, editorial director of Modern Baking, thought Skinner Baking was building a competitive advantage by investing in a brand while others were hunkering down to get through the recession. Phillip Davis, president of Tungsten Branding, worried that the company was pursuing two opposing missions. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, applauded the inclusion of the family name in the brand name as a way of conveying quality assurance.
WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE
The branded products were accepted by supermarket clients across the country, but Skinner found himself unhappy with the brand name and the package design. He replaced the marketing head with a food-industry veteran and fired one salesperson; the other two resigned. The company then enlisted a design consultancy to conduct market research and develop a new brand name. In June, Skinner Baking unveiled higher-priced Danish with more fillings, more toppings, and new packaging, with the name j. skinner and the tag line "Modern Artisan Baking."
Skinner expects revenue to grow about 20 percent by the end of 2010, thanks in large part to purchases of j. skinner products by existing and new customers. In the meantime, as contracts to make unbranded products for clients expire, the company will move to focus exclusively on the branded line. Skinner Baking is also exploring opportunities to acquire outside brands.
JASON DEL REY was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey