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Shark Tank Bites Bantam Bagels

SMB Retail by Angela Diffly
Bantam Bagels LoriSpreading The Word

Nick and Elyse Oleksak, co-owners of Bantam Bagels, are on a “roll,” spreading mini-bagel ball love throughout the country. At a time when everyone is looking for smaller portion sizes, they won over Americans and secured a $275K investment from Lori Greiner in exchange for 25 percent of their company after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank with their 100-calorie cream-cheese stuffed delights. NY Daily News voted the company “The #3 Best Bagel In NYC”, no easy feat in the bagel Holy Land. Then they achieved every small business owner’s dream: their mini-stuffed bagel balls became one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2014.

But some would argue they’re just hitting their stride. After all, not many single brick-and-mortar store locations have done what Bantam Bagels just did. They’ve managed to get their tasty treats into the hands, hearts and bellies of Starbucks customers up and down the east and west costs – to the tune of 1,500 stores and counting. We caught up with Elyse Oleksak to find out how the company competes in the big leagues – and what’s next for the little bagels that could.

NYC Starbucks BBTechnology Is Everything

“We started off as a tiny retail location in New York City, so anybody across the country who was touching, experiencing and viewing us was doing it online. It was the only way people not in New York could access us,” she told us. The first thing the company did as it began to grow was revamp its website. Oleksak pointed out that creating an experience was important, from telling their story to making sure visual images of the bagels looked good enough to eat (they do, by the way!).

“Building an ecommerce platform was one of the hardest things we did, because it’s not just the technology – it’s connecting the technology.” By this, she means integrating business logistics, like fulfilling orders, having sufficient inventory and managing warehouse operations. “We already built one business from scratch, and here we were building a second one. It was a tremendous effort. As we grew bigger, we continued to evolve our brand.” That included investing heavily in a second website revamp to make sure the web experience was integrated and representative of who they were. “Technology has always been the number one thing we focus on first,” she told us. Oleksak referenced Strong Studio in NYC as their go-to web design company. “They were very strategic. They didn’t just come up with something beautiful; they really heard us and became a true partner. They got to know the crux of our brand – we’re New York City, we’re about authenticity, and our bagel balls are fun and cute. They make people light up, so that was all incorporated into our design.”

website BB1

Bantam Bagels uses Breadcrumb POS in-store, and the WooCommerce platform for online sales, which is the most popular ecommerce platform on the web, powering over 37 percent of all online stores. While WooCommerce keeps track of inventory and sales, Oleksak admits there is no current integration with inventory tracking from the warehouse, which means they have to constantly compare the online and warehouse inventory. “Since we are a small business and we don’t own our own warehouse, we have to outsource that. They have their own system, and we have ours. Sales and inventory don’t talk to each other,” she told us.

PayPal facilitates transactions online, provides reports and manages protection on both sides of the transaction. “It hurts to have to pay to process transactions, but I don’t think there’s anything we do that we don’t have to pay for – everything gets factored in. We try as much as we can not to raise prices, but you need capital to grow, so it’s always a balancing act.”

Being A Good “Host”

When the company first launched, the website was being hosted by a company that was not prepared for the influx of web traffic after the Shark Tank appearance. The site crashed during airing, which Oleksak admits was heart wrenching. “We had our five minutes on the national stage for people to access inventory, and then our site ended up crashing. It was horrible for us.” Shortly after that happened, the company accessed the wisdom of other Shark Tank companies to get recommendations and settled on Rackspace, which continues to provide managed cloud support. “They’re always on the clock and available for us, scaling up our bandwidth when we have appearances, and scaling back when we don’t. Because of that moment [when the website crashed] during what we saw as the most pivotal moment in our business. Now, we’re just crazy about having the site ready.”

Since Bantam Bagels had an appearance on The View the week after we talked, they planned to be ultra-ready. “We basically sit on the couch with multiple laptops. We have our Google Analytics up, we have our website up, we have one person checking the analytics, one person on the website acting like a customer going through cycle after cycle to make sure they can buy smoothly, and then we have Rackspace on speaker checking our servers – so I don’t think we’ve watched one appearance because we’re always so concerned about the website.”

Being picked for Oprah’s Favorite Things meant a sizeable uptick in web traffic, but because it was a magazine spread, there was a more consistent flow. “Shark Tank was a big bang. While you’re on TV, traffic grows and grows, but then when the commercial hits, there’s an explosion of traffic at that very moment. You need to support tens of thousands of hits at once. It’s very different.” With Shark Tank and Beyond The Tank (follow-up show) still airing, Bantam Bagels has to be ready when that spike hits again, and again.

Rolling On

“Shark Tank will bring you customers and people who root for you and try you out, but it’s our job to keep them coming back,” Oleksak told us. “My husband and I are really involved, every step of the way. As we onboarded our new co-packer, we were there for three weeks straight – speaking Spanish with the ladies on the line, rolling out the dough, making sure everything was perfect. The way we look at it, our margins don’t matter if our product isn’t amazing.” She mentioned they make it a habit to walk into five Starbucks a day and buy one bagel and take one bite to make sure their quality is always up to par.

“Our mission is to change the way people eat bagels, and to make them part of everyday life. There’s literally nothing more integrated into people’s everyday routine as Starbucks.” Except maybe being inside people’s freezers. And that’s coming soon to 300 Safeway stores next month. “We want to be plugged into every place you’d see a bagel,” she told us. I’d say they’re well on their way, rolling to a location near you. And if you don’t see Bantam Bagels in your local Starbucks or grocery store soon, just remember – there’s always online ordering!