30 years a Bakers Delight franchisee and still going strong

By Sarah Stowe | 20 Apr 2018 View comments

Inside Franchise Business: Brad Peatling, a Bakers Delight franchisee for 30 yearsIt’s a national brand with almost 600 outlets across the country but there was a time when Bakers Delight was a single-store neighbourhood baker. And Brad Peatling remembers those days.

Once an apprentice working with brand founders Roger and Lesley Gillespie at the original store in Melbourne’s Hawthorn, he has been with the company for 34 years, and for more than two decades has been a franchisee.

“I started in September 1984. I’m 49 and I’ve been there since I was 16.”

The Gillespies were heavily involved in running their two outlets – they are still on hand and visiting stores despite stepping back from the business last year to allow daughter Elise and son-in-law David Christie to take the reins.

So what was it like working with the founders? “You knew where you stood,” says Peatling. “They’ve always had direction. They love bread; no pies, no cakes, just bread. They’re really passionate about it.”

By the time Peatling had worked through three and a half years of 2am starts at the Hawthorn store, Bakers Delight had become a 35-strong chain of bakeries with grand plans for expansion.

When the Gillespies went to the US to open bakeries in San Francisco he was given responsibility for the staffing of the bakers across the chain.

“I had to make sure there was a baker at each store at 2am in the morning,” he says.

Over the years of running the bakeries Peatling has drawn on one of skills learned managing the 18 corporate stores.

“What that taught me was people management. One of my biggest strengths now is people. I can turnaround negativity. I like to see people succeed.”

He’s a regular mentor for incoming franchisees, and has just helped an IT specialist in his mid 50s who has taken on a Bakers Delight franchise and is about to open up the doors to his own business.

“It’s full on manual work, it’s full on customer service. To see this guy with no experience come in, he doesn’t understand business and he’s changed his whole life around. He’s as nervous but what a champion!”

When the Gillespies returned from the US and embraced the franchise model, Peatling took on two stores, leasing them until he had the money to buy them outright.

The next big step in his life was marrying Joanne, a top student of dental nursing who scored a spot at the best training school. The only problem was the location: Adelaide.

When Peatling told the Gillespies he would take a couple of years out so Joanne could take up this opportunity, they had a solution: open a store there.

He opened the first store at Tea Tree, then his brother opened another at Glenelg. It wasn’t long before Peatling had a second outlet in the local shopping centre.

After a while the couple decided to move closer to family and added two stores in the state border towns of Albury Wodonga to their portfolio.

Having four stores such a distance apart eventually became too much and the South Australian outlets were sold.

With three children in tow, a move still closer to Melbourne was predictable, and the couple sold the Albury Wodonga businesses, snapping up a run down bakery in Northlands.

Their model of expansion has been based on buying up existing bakeries and rebranding to Bakers Delight – sometimes relocating to get the best site.

Buying and selling Northland, and then Bulleen, brought them to the Eltham location where they still are today, 13 years on.

Just the one store now suits the family. Peatling had a serious accident and spent two and a half years in rehab. It was at this time of extreme need that he fully realised the value of the franchisee network.

“That’s the strength of the franchise, I had friends who I had made over the years who for 18 months to two years through this journey stepped up and ran my business. The strength of this network is the camaraderie.

“We know a lot of people here and our best friends are in Bakers Delight. We’re all the same, we go out together, we go away together.

“You buy into the name and the marketing, but in the end it’s your business.

“We’re a very community minded business, we support about a dozen local clubs. We get invited to functions and fundraise ourselves.”

In alliance with other local business organisations, the Eltham Bakers Delight helped raise $20,000 over a three week period for the Breast Cancer Network, the official charity of the bakery network.

“It’s good for our business and people feel loyal when they can see you are giving back to the community. All of us in the network give our leftover bread to charities,” he says.

Of the 15,000 plus team in the chain Peatling is the longest serving, though he has two other long standing franchisees whom he regularly contacts for advice and a chat.

When he started out there was no Saturday afternoon or Sunday trading, no late nights. In addition to extended hours there are increased costs. The baking technology has improved, new recipes found by franchisees are tested and added to the menu, there’s now a proper marketing team and a property and leasing division.

“All this takes the pressure off us so we don’t have to worry about anything other than running our business.”

Even today that is a six-day a week job for both Brad and Joanne. But they love it.

Joanne is always on the frontline, serving customers, and knows everyone and what’s going on in their lives, says Brad.

“It’s a really personal touch. As franchisees we put a lot of money into the business but it’s our responsibility, we’ve got to then get in and have a red-hot go.”

Leading from the front has always been Peatling’s way. “I’m the extra in the business. I’ll sweep floors, wash dishes. It’s a cliche, but you can’t ask someone else to do a job you won’t do. That’s how you get respect.”

He is not keen on 2am starts anymore but can still be found at the bread ovens at 6am some mornings.

“There’s nothing better than a nice roll, nicely mixed, fresh out of the oven. Our customers pay good money, we want to give them a good product.”