The life of a small business owner can be a challenging one, with small profit margins, fickle clientele and staffing issues looming as potential issues just over the horizon. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular put many small businesses in peril, and the hospitality industry was particularly hard hit (according to industry association Restaurants Canada, 10,000 restaurants closed between March and December 2020).

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt discuss renovation plans for OMG Baked Goodness on the set of Project Bakeover

Steve Hodge knows these challenges like the back of his baking pan — as the owner of Temper Chocolate & Pastry in Vancouver, he has built up his business from a single location to one that sells treats in retail stores across the country. Now, on Project Bakeover, Steve brings the lessons he’s learned from his own success to small bakeries across North America.

We caught up by phone with Steve, who shared some of his best tips from the early episodes of this season for struggling entrepreneurs and bakery owners.

Related: Here’s What You Need to Know About Steve Hodge

Think Outside the Store

The first thing Steve does before even entering a bakery is to eyeball the signage outside. If the word “bakery” isn’t front and center, customers can get the wrong first impression (at Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats in Episode 1, the word didn’t even appear on the signage, but “classes” and “parties” were highlighted. “This could be a party store,” said Steve). Often, the customer’s decision as to whether to enter the shop is based on curbside appeal and a clear sense of the store’s direction.

See More: Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats Gets a Bold New Look

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If the customer can’t see what your shop is selling, then they are less likely to buy. In Episode 2, Steve recommended that OMG Baked Goodness’ poorly organized and half-empty counters be loaded full of bright lights and inviting products. Remember to spotlight the best sellers and popular products.

Close up shot of the baked goods at OMG Baked Goodness

Bigger is Not Always Better

Sometimes customers want a big over-the-top treat, but more often, they are looking for a small indulgence. As soon as Steve bit into Mrs. Joy’s cream puff, he knew it was too large and a waste of her ingredients. “She’d get a bigger bang for her buck if she cut it down a bit,” he says. Consider that customers have varying appetites and budgets, and plan accordingly.

See More: We Share Our Go-To Bakeries Across Canada

Be Ready to Change on the Fly

Especially during pandemic times, where rolling lockdowns can mean an open dining space one day and a closed storefront with takeout only the next, flexibility is essential. At Temper Bakery, Steve and his team were ready to make some quick changes to adapt when the COVID-19 lockdowns began. “As bakeries, we can change the way we run our business — we can be a dine-in or grab-and-go,” he says. “At Temper, we now sell more frozen bake-at-home products than we sell fresh from the store. It was a matter of simplifying our business model and streamlining the elements to maximize profitability.”

Keep It Simple

In the same vein, Steve advises bakery owners to think outside the box, but not to hold onto inventory because they’re too attached to it or think they’ll need it later on. “This is a great time to simplify,” he says. “At Temper, we took 20 per cent of our menu off when the pandemic first hit, and we’re never returning to the old way.” The worst mistake he saw at the bakeries he visited was an overabundance of product choice, which led to the bakery owners being overwhelmed and working day in and day out.

Related: Watch Steve Hodge’s Video Bio

Harness Social Media

“If you’re not online, get online,” says Steve, who recommends that bakery owners use social media to identify and spotlight their hero items. “When I was in culinary school, there was no social media. Now, home cooks around the world can pick up the phone and take a picture of their baked goods. Social media changed the world of pastry in terms of who we knew were the best, and you learn more by inventing and creating.”

Take It Outside

Putting tables outside for curbside pickup is a perfect opportunity to draw traffic and boost curb appeal, says Steve. “It will draw you out of the kitchen and make you more interactive as a business owner,” he says. “If you haven’t been involved in [the] community, go outside and say hello and stay safe to your customers. Really take the chance to interact with them — they’ll remember it.”

To Make Money, You Have to Spend Money

Even if margins are tight, Steve recommends some low-cost ways to garner some publicity, such as contacting the local paper and buying a small ad, or running a contest on social media. “It can be as simple as saying ‘if you like this picture, send to this person, or recommend it for a gift and you have a chance to win a gift box’,” he says.

Put Your Logo Out There

Think beyond flyers when it comes to logos. “If you sell coffee in your shop and don’t logo your cups, go buy a $20 stamp with your logo and stamp away,” says Steve. “The majority of stuff for takeout that people carry around outside is in paper cups. You want your logo everywhere: on stickers, poles, and in peoples’ hands.”

Steve Hodge at OMG Baked Goodness

Keep an Open Mind to New Ideas, Even After the Pandemic Ends

Don’t just innovate in terms of trend chasing, advises Steve.  “We ask ourselves as business owners, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’ — well, we didn’t always have to think of that next step,” he says. “But out of the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot of great things as to how to run a business, and we’ll keep doing them.”

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.