Kirks Home Bakery: Rising to the challenge

Kirks Home Bakery: Rising to the challenge

In these unprecedented times, find out how Mercedes-Benz Vans have helped family firm Kirks Home Bakery stay on a roll.

In a challenging year, we’ve all needed a little more comfort than usual – and what could be more comforting than a freshly baked loaf of bread, a wedge of cake or a perfectly fluffy scone? For Belfast-based business Kirks Home Bakery, this rise in demand for sweet and savoury treats has presented a tasty new opportunity for growth. With their delivery services soaring and ever-more hungry customers to satisfy, how could this small family-run operation make sure they were getting a slice of the action they deserved? 

Quality products are Kirks’ bread and butter

Like all the best baked goods, Kirks was started from scratch. In 1995, its young founders Robert and Sonya Kirk had no financial backing or support, and often worked 22-hour days just to establish the business in their local community. In the early days, the couple baked above the shop to save on costs, and juggling the business with raising their young children was no small task.

But thanks to their focus and determination, word of Kirks’ superior products and excellent service soon began to spread. From the very beginning, the Kirks have prided themselves in creating consistent, top quality bakes. Even after 25 years of success, they’re not resting on their laurels. “The bakery is our life,” says Director John Kirk, Robert and Sonya’s eldest son. “It’s our baby, and we treat it as such.”

“We have 25 - 30 staff and we pride ourselves in keeping them happy and giving them the best place to work. That reflects in their work and means our customers are getting the best possible service and product. We treat our staff like family. The word “home” is in our name and we always want that homely feeling to be part of who we are.”

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses and suppliers across the country to close, Kirks were suddenly faced with a challenge they couldn’t have foreseen.

Satisfying appetites of customers in lockdown

In order to keep things moving, Kirks decided to broaden their customer base for the wholesale arm of the business, by selling to delis, independent shops and food vans. It also helped that this beloved bakery had a loyal following at their own two branded shops in Sandy Row and Ballyhackamore in Belfast, and their orders kept rolling in. The opening of a third shop was put on hold and the business, initially forced to downsize, suddenly found themselves scaling up to accommodate the increase in wholesale demand.

“We kept the shops open to support the community,” John recounts. “They’d call us and we’d make home deliveries, sometimes walking if they were nearby. I ran the Ballyhackamore shop myself during lockdown. I packed and delivered to provide that service and my sister, Gemma and mum, Sonya ran the Sandy Row shop. We were working 16 hour days. We tried our best to support people, and as customers came back, we upscaled our business to accommodate.”

Kirks weren’t alone. In a September report, the Mercedes-Benz Vans Business Barometer  showed that 66% of SMEs in the UK expanded their local coverage during the pandemic, with some businesses travelling up to 50 miles further than usual in order to serve new and existing customers. And this sense of community spirit is more than mutual, with a recent YouGov report finding that 64% of shoppers were more likely to support their local suppliers than before the pandemic.

But with the increase in orders and the rising demand for wholesale supply, there came another challenge – because unlike the supermarket giants and large-scale competitors, Kirks simply didn’t have the van capacity to keep up.  “We’ve had five Sprinters in succession now, but never more than two at a time,” John says. “Rising demand for our products, however, persuaded us to set a third on the road.”

 

Mercedes-Benz vans make delivery easy as pie

With the acquisition of their third van, Kirks has been able to face the challenge of the fast-changing business landscape.

Their new Sprinter, which was supplied by dealers Mercedes-Benz Truck & Van (NI), has joined a small fleet which also includes a Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup. It’s the Sprinters, though, which make the majority of the bakery’s deliveries – and which they’re relying on to help them keep on rising to the occasion. “Our Sprinters endure a tough life, leaving our factory on the Shankill at around 3.30am and making up to upwards of 120 drops a day between all our vans,” John says. “They stand up to the punishment extremely well, and are very cost-effective to operate – over a 200,000-mile working life we experience little, if any, unplanned downtime.”

Small businesses like Kirks are faced with a landscape of uncertainty – but so many are doing their utmost to keep moving. So what does the future look like for Kirks Home Bakery?

John, for one, is optimistic. With the third shop still set to open, turnover picking up again for cafes and a loyal base of hungry customers waiting for their deliveries, it seems that Kirks are well equipped to withstand whatever comes. “Out of this doom and gloom, there’ll be opportunities for growth and doors opening,” John says. “For us, it’s been about fighting to look for those. I take things day by day. It’s all just about working hard and trying our best.”

Ready to roll

Kirks keep things moving with their Mercedes-Benz X-Class and Sprinter Vans

Keeping things sweet

Between all vans, Kirks can make upwards of 120 drops a day

The upper crust

Kirks’ Sprinters have helped them serve their local community in challenging times

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