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Small businesses can bake big brands

All the regulars know about the free samples.

Every day since Calvin Coolidge was president, there's been a free cookie, pastry or coffee-cake for anyone who walks into Beaverton Bakery, located in the heart of Beaverton.

This friendly nod to customers is one of the many little things Beaverton Bakery does that makes it one of the best known 'small town' bakeries in Oregon.

When advertisers talk about strong brands, they almost always default into the familiar fables of Starbucks, Apple or Harley Davidson. But those stories often ring hollow to the businesses who don't play in the Fortune 500.

Beaverton Bakery is evidence the same important branding values that work for Starbucks works for them.

'Being a retail scratch bakery that has survived this long and grown is really incredible,' says Carrie Ann Schubert, the general manager whose father, Charles Schubert, bought the business in 1965.

In the 1990s, the Schuberts decided to make it easier for out-of-towners to get their hands on authentic cream-puffs. They opened up a shop in Lake Oswego.

And so, in this city called Lake Oswego, there was now a bakery called Beaverton Bakery.

What? Wouldn't that be confusing?

'There was never confusion. We were in a different city yes, but people knew who we were,' says Schubert.

Beaverton Bakery has since expanded to work in large airports in partnership with the retailer, Hudson Group.

SYSCO Foods has contracted with them so the food giant can carry Beaverton Bakery's fluffy hamburger buns. And for Portland Trail Blazer fans, you will find hot sourdough pretzels under the Beaverton Bakery name at the Rose Garden Arena.

The recipe for this powerful brand is the same one used by the big guys: Produce a quality product. This is a hallmark of a strong brand. People will pay a premium for quality. This is true for a $20,000 motorcycle or a $70 banana chiffon cake.

Schubert was worried a few years ago when Costco opened a store nearby and began selling large sheet-cakes for a fraction of what Beaverton Bakery charged.

'I watched my birthday cake business go down,' she says. 'Then about a year later, I watched it go back up.'

Customers came back after discovering Costco's quality and service was no match.

Keep core values intact. 'We've never used preservatives,' says Shubert. 'My dad always laughed at what he calls the 'nuts and berries' stores who want our cakes and then tell us to make sure we don't use preservatives. We never have.'

Never forget your loyal customers. It's much more expensive to find new customers than to keep those you already have.

At the bakery, walk-in customers are always greeted with a smile - regulars greeted by name.

Whether it's a maple bar, or a big SYSCO order, customers always receive first-class treatment.

Employees have to be on brand. There's no automation at the bakery. It's all done by hand. The 80 full-time employees buy into the company mantra: quality ingredients, timeless technique.

These are the values that help define and distinguish companies, values that are also important personal principles. They can seem trite when listed on paper - serving the customer, staying true to your principles. But when they are lived every single day - even a small town bakery can rise to the top.

(Mark Hass is brand manager for Cappelli Miles in Portland. When the Legislature is in session, he represents Washington County in the Oregon Senate.)