Birds (Derby) Ltd has been baking for almost a century. As a family-run business, it knows that tradition and continuity are assets to be prized. Every day for the past ninety years, its team of bakers has worked all hours of the day and night to fill the shelves of its now fifty bakery shops with the products that its customers love. Priding itself on having grown with the times, Birds has never allowed the modernisation needed in the pursuit of efficiency to destroy its quality and its craft bakery heritage. In fact, it boasts of still using the traditional techniques that have been the making of the business.
A family business
The company was formed by three brothers returning from World War in 1919. Today, it is run by the third and fourth generations of that same family. Values are as important to Birds now as they were in those early days. The 21st century Birds business remains driven by the desire to serve its local communities well, but it also has more contemporary values to espouse. Its eco credentials, for example, include having its web site hosted on ‘green’ servers using renewable energy, by a company with ‘green’ values.
Building a 50-store regional estate
Birds enjoyed a period of considerable expansion in the 1980s and 1990s. When Retail Manager Mike Holling joined the business in 1991, it had 32 shops. In 2010, Birds has just opened its 50th. All its shops are located in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire, with the bakery and head office remaining in Derby. The company’s strength comes from staying regional and keeping close to the culture of the East Midlands. The business now employs 650 staff, of which 500 in the retail estate. “Some have been with us for forty years,” observes Mike.
The primary product range is bread, confectionery, savouries and celebration cakes. In addition to its retail shop offerings, large orders, buffet food and celebration cakes can be ordered online. Birds’ popular range of take-away lunch foods, sandwiches, hot savouries and coffees is offered today under the Expresso brand. And, for those customers wanting to relax in a comfortable setting and enjoy what is on offer, there are tearooms in eight of the stores. Birds bakes uniquely for its stores and prides itself on the freshness of its products. Breads, cakes and sandwiches are made daily and offered in optimum condition.
Needing to look at new technology
Up until the Millennium, Birds had operated with simple NCR cash registers in the shops. “We were conscious that we needed to look at new technology,” says Mike Holling. “In 2001, we looked at quite a few systems. We needed something that was reliable and robust for our front-of-house operations and which produced good reports in the back-office. At the end of the day, given our staff profile, whatever we selected had to be easy to handle. Each system we looked at just did not fit our requirements or meet up to our expectations in terms of reliability or functionality.”
J2 hardware meets Birds’ criteria
That year, Mike and his colleagues met up with J2 Retail Systems’ UK Sales Director, Richard Heitmann. The meeting took place just prior to Birds opening a new shop in Derby. “It was clear that J2 hardware fitted our criteria perfectly and was already being very successfully used in the bakery sector. Richard offered us the Javelin Viper product on pilot.”
Richard Heitmann then introduced Mike Holling to software house Cratos Hospitality. Cratos provides hardware, software and services exclusively for the catering and hospitality sectors. Its solutions support food service and food retailing. The partnership was brokered there and then and, in August 2001, Birds’ new shop at Irongate in Derby city centre installed Javelin Viper units running a Cratos solution.
“We used that shop as our test bed, and were very pleased with how the trial went,” remarks Mike. “The system worked and gave us the confidence to roll out J2’s Javelin Vipers across the business. Before the end of that year, we had rolled out to 15 shops as our first phase. By the end of the following year, 45 shops were up and running with J2s.” We had no issues with implementation or with training. All the installations went smoothly and our staff took to the new system very well, which was important for us.”
Upgrading to the J2 580
A further five years elapsed before, in 2007, Birds decided to take advantage of a new machine that J2 had recently launched. This was the J2 580, a fault tolerant PC-based touchscreen that delivers high-performance processing for the larger applications that are increasingly run at point-of-sale. Comments Mike: “We decided to test out the J2 580 in a shop that was having a refit. Once again, we had no problems. A number of units were installed and it all went extremely well.”
“We’ve been pleased with the J2 580s,” says Mike. “The units look more professional. Whilst they have a very small footprint, the bigger screen has made it quicker and user-friendlier for our staff to use. Flexible mounting and a 95degree screen tilt have been useful too.” Mike and his colleagues have found the fanless machines completely quiet at point-of-sale and ideal for the bakery environment, with its flour dust-laden atmosphere and stringent hygiene requirements. “This has made for a very reliable, low-maintenance unit for us,” he states.
Keeping ahead of the technology curve
Keen to keep ahead of the curve, Birds has recently decided yet again to follow the J2 development roadmap in terms of innovation. Rather than roll out J2 580s across the estate, the company is now replacing its Javelin Vipers with J2’s latest machine, the J2 615, as part of a full upgrade plan.
Credited with introducing fanless EPoS to the market a number of years ago, J2 uses emergent technologies wherever possible to reduce the cost of hardware ownership. With its J2 615 model, it has scored another market ‘win’ by launching the first EPoS to replace hard disk storage with Solid State Drives. This innovative, fanless machine uses latest technology to deliver virtually maintenance-free performance, making it supremely cost-effective.
Both the J2 580 and J2 615 have impressed Mike Holling by having all the technology contained in the ‘head’. “This looks a lot more professional on the counter, and has enabled us to select either counter mounting or pole mounting. We prefer pole mounting wherever possible. This latest model looks extremely good,” adds Mike. “It’s quiet and completely adaptable to the bakery shop environment. We made our decision to upgrade after a lot of discussion with Richard. We greatly value what he says and, when he suggested this latest model, we could see it was the right decision to make.”
Once again, this new J2 unit has received very good acceptance instore and has given Birds a painless upgrade. At present, Birds has a total of 115 J2 machines installed, distributed amongst its fifty shops at the rate of one to three per shop, with five in one shop only. Work will continue until all Birds’ premises have the J2 615 installed.
“Touchscreen technology works so well at point-of-sale,” enthuses Mike. “Now the technology is so affordable, I’m surprised other companies have not gone down this route. We’ve found our investment in J2 technology has reduced our cost of ownership, both in purchase and maintenance terms. We have a 3-year warranty and, with this latest model, there is even less to go wrong so we feel very confident.”
Birds, J2 and Cratos – a partnership for success
Birds are pleased, too, to see how well the Cratos Hospitality EPoS software works on all the J2 units. “Their Windows®-based software takes care of our head-office and front of house, in store operating needs. It runs well on J2’s latest machines. Really, it’s been a very successful partnership between the three companies,” concludes Mike Holling. “It’s worked extremely well.”