In many ways the elements that go into differentiating a bakery are the same as any other business. While it may seem obvious, most businesses are not even doing a good job at the three basics. If you can make sure to keep these areas in good shape, you will by default stand head and shoulders above the rest.

1. Quality of product: Make sure the quality of your product is demonstrably equal to or better than your best competitor. Make a list of the top three or four qualities your customer looks for in your type of product and make sure you are delivering it. Is it freshness, taste, visual appeal, high quality ingredients?

2. Quality of service: It's one thing to get loaf of crispy French bread that tastes like a million bucks. It's another thing to have it served to you by a surly teenager who clearly hates their job. The tone with which business is conducted can make all the difference in the world. What are the most important service qualities to your clientele? Is it timeliness, friendliness, personal attention, cleanliness?

3. Quality of process: Here is where many businesses miss the mark. They offer a great product or service, do it in a customer-focused way, but make the process of doing business with them a burden. Consider the policies and procedures in place at your bakery. Are they making it harder or easier for your customers to do business with you? For example: What is your refund policy? Satisfaction guarantee? How do you manage long lines? Do you take credit cards on even small purchases?

To put these three crucial elements in place, I suggest you do two things. First, go check out some of the more popular bakeries in your area and see how they stack up against the items above. Where might you have a window of opportunity in areas other bakeries are lacking? Next, create a simple feedback card that your customers can fill out, asking them to evaluate your products and service. Encourage them by putting completed cards into a fishbowl and picking out a lucky winner each week who gets a complimentary cruller. Lastly, find a way in one of these three areas to distinguish yourself. How can you differentiate yourself? Some bakeries have done this by being gluten free, using only natural ingredient, or making everything in miniature.

Remember, it's the combination of the basics done perfectly, combined with a slight twist to differentiate you that will have your bread not only come out of the oven fully baked, but going into the hands of eager, repeat customers.