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With no advertisement costs, how did a bakery increase sales by 300% just by using Facebook and press releases?

In this example, I will explain how, by smart use of Facebook and press releases, even an ordinary product like bread can benefit greatly from EC (electronic commerce)

example / interview / Web person in charge / job

Time to read: about 10mins

Here is a real-life example from a bakery in Sanjo city, Niigata, Japan. They want to increase sales and attract new customers but do so without greatly increasing costs. Using EC might not seem like an obvious choice for a business specializing in a product such as bread but this company took up the challenge and produced great results. The initial question from the bakery owner was;

“I want to know what ways we can increase sales?”

Here is some background information about this community bakery.


A view of Sunforet bakery from inside the shop.

The shop in located off the main road in a residential area surrounded by rural scenery.

The shop in this example, ‘Sunforet’ bakery, is located in a residential area in Sanjo city, Niigata. First established in 1981, in 2000 it had a reopening after being remodeled. It has been familiar to local people in the area since it first opened more than thirty years ago. Community bakeries like ‘Sunforet’ are popular throughout Japan.

The situation involving `Sunforet` (in 2012)

I will first introduce the situation `Sunforet` was in before introducing the EC strategy they used. (in 2012)

※The marks B-I indicate rival bakeries in the Sanjo city area. The red circle shows a radius of 3 kilometers from ‘Sunforet’.

Sanjo city has a population of about 102,000 people. Due to traffic conditions, the core customer base is that lying within a radius of 3 kilos range, and contains an estimated 17,400 households. *From Sanjo city data

Because this bakery is located in residential area away from any major road, it is not the best location to attract new customers. If you are not familiar is the road around that area, it is hard to find the shop. There is, however, a high-school nearby so the high-school students stop by on the way to school and back.

The bakery has more than 100 kinds of bread and they put a lot of effort into producing many baked confectioneries and cakes.

The Bakery has more than 20 workers, including the part time workers. ?It is a relatively large portion of its bakery in the local area.?

The Bakery has a ‘dine in’ area. They also have take-aways from their bakery, and also they use a wagon to sell product outside their local area. For example in front of big companies.

There are about 12 bakery in Sanjo-city. If the supermarket bakeries are included, the number of competing stores will be even higher.

The bakery places advertisements in the local newspaper(Sanjo Shinnbun) only when they have events on. They haven’t done advertising outside their local area. Even though they have web page, they hadn’t maintained it and it wasn’t working as a dispatch medium. After the renewal in 2000, it was changed so they could maintain it by themselves and a cart feature was added.

  • The bakery makes a wide range of products and they put effort into producing character bread for kids, cakes, and European style sweets. They also offer gift wrapping.
  • They have about 20 staff. They are hardworking and all have their own goals and aspirations, including some who dream of starting their own bakeries in the future. The staff have also successfully competed in baking competitions.

The bakery has been a well known shop in Sanjo-city but the owner was worried because she wanted to bring more sales and develop a multilevel marketing stratagy.

  • They are very particular about only using the highest quality ingredients for the bread products they make but were unsure how to promote this to let more people know the value of their products.
  • What should they do to increase the number of returning customers?
  • What should they do to attract new customers?
  • Is there ways to attract more customers without discounting their product.
  • Being a relatively small business, they have a limited advertising budget.
    (Based on these circumstances and given the surrounding populationI decided an EC campaign would be most cost effective for this business.)

To boost business, Sunforte bakery a number of different marketing strategies; using Facebook, press releases, mail magazines, and internet mail order.

The strategy I developed for Sunforte to increase sales

On planning a strategy, it is important to remember that a problem that a business of this size is likely to have is that they can not secure the budget to continue marketing, then motivation falls and the strategy is not followed through. So, ideally, the marketing approach should be based on strategies Sunforet can easily operate on their own rather than relying on an external party. This means it must be easy to use, fun, and produce good results so that motivation does not decline.

In this article, I am going to introduce three fail safe ways of marketing; Facebook, press releases, and mail magazines.


The Facebook marketing solution. A great way for staff and customers to interact and build their relationship!

Let’s take a look at the sunforet facebook page!

sunforet facebook page

From December 2011, the Facebook page that I made for Sunforte recieved 963 ‘likes’ over 2 years.

From this they retained 8001 impressions.

2013 April contribution

They gained 761 ‘likes’ on their April post. Even though they didn’t advertise, 80% of their Facebook fans saw the post and responded. This ‘like’ rate is amazing! As a result this post was expressed 8001 times and people left comments saying they wanted to buy their product.

Now their Facebook page has grown to have a public information-like role and is an important communication tool for sunforet. I will explain how I to got their Facebook page to be such a useful public relations tool.


As long as you keep in mind the target role of the Facebook page, you can contribute to it freely.

In using Facebook, it is important to first decide the role and duties of the Facebook page. Let staff know about the purpose of the page and ,as long as it is relevant, they should be encouraged to contribute to it freely.

Role of Facebook;

  • To raise awareness
    Make customers associate a particular product with your company, like bakery in Sanjo = Sunforet.
  • Lets customers develop a relationship and a sense of closeness with the staff.
    By getting to know the staff, customers feel more inclined to buy products from the people they know rather than those they don’t.
  • Additional benefits.
    Staff can share the development of products, which customers don’t get to see when they purchase them from the store or online.
  • This gives customers a sense of participation in the company.
    By showing the customers the development stage and the background of new products, customers feel involved so are more likely to support them.

Operational rules of Facebook

  • Do not try and force customers to ‘like’ the page or posts.
    Aggressively encouraging customers to ‘like’ posts is counterproductive as it makes customers feel pressured and less likely to support the page.
  • Use the Facebook page as a place of communication with customers
    Rather than just posting, take advantage of the page as a place for communication with customers and be sure to reply to all comments.

So that this does not disturb the day-to-day operations of the business, staff can do this any time that suits them.

Of course, ideally high quality photos and well written would be used for all posts to help encourage customers to ‘like’ and share the posting. However, if you set the standard too high, it may become too time consuming and be difficult to continue posting regularly.
Therefore, I intentionally set the standard low to encourage regular and continuing use.

Posting should not be stressful or seen as a chore but rather kept easy and relaxed.

Staff will work out what posts work best as they go along.
If you were asked by a customer about the taste a new product in development, which of the below would you would say?

1、 “Of course our bread must be delicious because it has been finely crafted by us.”

2、”We made it by trial and error, please try it and tell us what you think.”.

Both answers address the question and neither change the product or the effort put into developing it but the second response is more polite and invites customers to contribute and give feedback.
This creates a lively scene of posting about trials and errors and makes it easy customers and staff to make comments that focus on positive factors. The more users interact the more popular the page becomes.

Sharing trails, mistakes and experiments with customers and fans on the page fosters comments, feedback, and interaction which leads to greater exposure and interest in the business and it products.

This creates a mechanism that can take advantage of the user’s voice in the development of new products.

Previously when developing new products, we only really got customer feedback once the product was finished and released. But now, using Facebook, we are about to get customer input right from the beginning stages of a new product’s development.

When customers contribute and see their ideas reflected in the product development, they feel like it’s their own so they want to support it, and want to share the information with others.

This is great a way of marketing too.

While posting on the Facebook page should focus on the personal aspect of product background and development, of course the underlying aim is to boost sales.
By focusing on the personal aspects of a product and encouraging customers to contribute comments and ideas they naturally become interested in the product and will request information on how they can purchase it. This is the point as which to put up posts saying “good deals”, “Limited sales”, “order is by telephone”, and so on. This way the customers don’t feel like they are being coerced in to buying.

When there are lots of comments about a specific post like “would like to order so when do you start taking orders?” it is clear some customers actually wanting the product, we can put up the posting like ” we are taking an order by phone”, or “you can order on the internet”. This means that, without appearing coercive, it gives them the impression that it is useful information for users.

By simple everyday Facebook posting, it is keeps your business and products in the customers minds and makes it possible use it effectively for marketing.

Encourage staff utilization of the company Facebook page.

Leaving Facebook page contributions to the staff requires courage by the owner. It is is a very direct way of communicating with customers and the reputation of the business is at stake. At Sunforet, to start with it was just the owner who mainly posted.
Over time though, the owner reduced the amount they posted themselves and left it up to staff to post. Now a number of staff have posting on the page as part of their work duties.

Making it a staff duty to post on the page gets them talking to each other about what to post and what customers would like to see, and also thinking about the company’s philosophy and direction. This gives staff a sense of responsibility and ownership towards their company and a desire to see it succeed.
Staff also feel a pride and satisfaction when their Facebook posts get positive feedback from customers so are more likely to continue posting and promoting the company.

Regular posting on Facebook about activities and products helps raise quality standards because the staff and business are on display for all to see at all times. It also helps staff build good relations with customers, being able to communicate in person at the storefront and at other times via the Facebook page. Seeing customer satisfaction in comments encourages staff to take pride their work, which lifts their general performance.

Using this approach, Sunforet now has 761 likes and 8001 impressions for a photograph of a roll cake that they posted in the beginning. Sunforet manages their Facebook page on their own account and about one year after the start of operation the number of likes have greatly increased. All this has been achieved without any advertising.

Through their Facebook page Sunforet, a small local community based store has received a lot of publicity and it has become one of their important marketing tools.

Brand improvement using press releases.

“At Sunforet, we use select ingredients to bring you delicious baked goods which are tasty and healthy. We strive to develop new products that will bring you great satisfaction.”

This kind of mission statement applies not only to Sunforet, but many similar companies nationwide, as they seek to develop and promote their business.

Sadly though, this philosophy is not reaching the hearts of our customers. It is difficult to inspire potential customers who haven’t seen or touched the product.

For companies with large capital, it is possible to advertise on TV. But for small businesses, they can’t afford such a big budget. On web-sites, content such as “customer voice” is well-known to many people and leading to increased profit. But what way they should take? The answer was a press release.

Get picked up by newspapers and TV for free

They took press releases to each local media company and invited them to come and interview their business and produce an article about it.
While it needn’t cover everything the business does it is important to see suitable material makes it into the report. These are some important points;

  • It should be a seasonal content
  • It should focus on a new product or development
  • It should be an affordable product available at a reasonable price

It is important to think about the approach to take when you compare products, and think about whether it will make a good article or not.

“Ice Bread” and “The bread made from Sanjo wheat”

Based on the points mentioned above, I am going to introduce specific examples of using press releases at Sunforet.

  • seasonal contents
    They developed an “ice bread”, which you eat frozen.
    During early summer, they made a press release about their ice bread product and included information about the impending extremely hot summer forecast and so on, so people who saw the story associated their product with cool relief form the heat. This story was also featured on the evening news of the local TV station.
  • A new product and challenge for the Sanjo area
    At sunforet they are very particular about the wheat they use as it is the main ingredient for their product and want to make it as delicious and healthy as possible.
    In Niigata, given the climate, it is difficult to grow wheat but some farmers took up the challenge and sold the resulting bread made from local wheat in Sanjo.
    Before they grew the wheat, they approached the media and told their story. It was taken up by the local newspaper and TV station and they followed the story closely and made a special feature for evening television.

The chance of having a story taken up and published the media is increased is you can get onside with them and giving them a story which is in season.

Also, by giving an interview, they could start to build an interpersonal relationship with the reporters, making it easier to approach them again in the future. Using a press release, they were able to inform many people their product at no cost but they needed the good background story to get people interested and turn the publicity into sales.

Before going to the media, make sure the website provides a good base.

When a product is televised or in a newspaper their has been a surge in users accessing the website who are highly motivated to buy some product.

Publishing the product featured on TV or ing the newspaper at the top of the webpage, and fixing the lead and preparing a good base is important. At Sunforet, they placed a shopping cart facility on the website so that anybody who couldn’t come to the shop to buy the featured product could it online. This way they got sales from new customers all over the Niigata area.

Using the no costing press release, Sunforte tie it to sales through their website and it led to an improvement in their brand image.

By being published in the media, it raises the loyalty of the existing local customers in Sanjo and led to increase an in the frequency existing customers visited the store. Though your story mightn’t get picked up by media the first time it is important to keep trying because eventually they will and the benefits can be great.

Strategies to enhance the visit frequency of existing customers

Even though we increased company exposure using Facebook and acquired new customers by carrying out press releases, the most important marketing strategy is looking after existing customers.

For a product such as bread, it is existing customers who will be supporting a large portion of sales in the future.

The core customers are woman aged 30 to 60, and who aren’t regularly using Facebook.

The Sunforet’s existing customers are mostly housewives aged 30 to 60 and are living near the shop.
But this demographic does not really use Facebook, and more still use old style cellphones than smartphones in this generation.
Given this, we decided to use a mail magazine to approach this group.
When carrying out a mail magazine campaign it is important to keep in mind the following;

  • Do not use mail magazines just to promote cheap deals and discount specials, this helps to maintain the premium product image in the eyes of the customer.
    Rather than try to appeal on price, it is better to offer exclusive new product tasting for those receiving the mail magazine.
    This makes regulars feel they are premium customers rather than just being encourage visit for a discount.
  • By offering this group an exclusive product it shows that company acknowledges and values their custom.
    A male staff member on parental leave was in charge of producing the mail magazine.
    The humorous trials of the father trying to juggle childcare and producing the magazine were shared in it. This was something many of the housewives could relate to so made the mail magazine entertaining and encouraged them to continue reading.


It quickly became very popular and was a useful way of facilitating communication with existing customers (even just to cancel the mail magazine delivery if nothing else!) and this led to continuing sales.
Through the mail magazine, we not only provided product information to our customers but also entertainment.

Using this approach, the mail magazine campaign was a very successful marketing tool and led to a significant increase in customers.

Sales went up by 300% with only minimal advertising cost and there were lots of other benefits to the business not shown simply by the improved sales.

As a result of the efforts described above Sunforet, sales went up by 300% for their “iced bread” product.
This was a big achievement with very little advertising cost.
Ms Isono, the owner of the bakery, said “There are lots of other improvements that are not shows in the sales figures.”

It is a real example of successful proactive marketing and follow up action using a ‘plan-do-check-act’ approach.
There have been lots of benefits business operations that no one realize unless they were staff.

This approach is not just about making a Facebook page and posting pictures. It required a business-wide strategy and, importantly, included staff in the process. This led to improvements in their overall performance.

We can do all this without any spending on advertising.
Using this marketing approach, the growth is largely driven by customer initiative and its success is visible to all.

The website and Facebook page are important points of promotion but they must be backed up by physical marketing and public relations activities as well.
Even if you cannot afford a big advertising budget there is still ways you can promote your business successfully.

The videos featured in the voice of real owner

The owners at Sunforte said “To be honest, I don’t like to tell our technique!” but they were happy to show me how they achieved such spectacular growth, and agreed to let me share their success story with the public and I included their real voice in the movie.
The movie is 20 minutes long, but if you have time, please watch it to learn more about the Sunforte marketing success story!



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