'Cake Boss' bakery uses unified communications to streamline sales

Carlo's Bakery knew that in order to get ready for some rapid expansion it needed to upgrade its traditional PBX. And replacing it with a unified communications system brought new options ranging from video cake consulting to in-queue sales when the line of customers backs out the door onto the sidewalk.

With IP trunking and no dedicated phone lines, that turns into savings as well as a range of functionality that the company's CIO Leo Minervini is still exploring to make the business more efficient.

When he came to Carlo's in 2011, he was linking up with a one-site business that was booming ever since its owner, Buddy Valastro Jr., appeared on the TLC reality show "Cake Boss" two years earlier.

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What Minervini found when he arrived was a company with a single location planning to set up a cake factory and open new stores; the aging Nortel PBX had to go.

"I knew we would do an aggressive retail expansion and e-commerce," he says. "When we started selling products online there would be a flood of requests."

Now the company has six sites in New Jersey, one in New York City and is opening another in Las Vegas at the Venetian hotel. It's even setting up operations on Norwegian Cruise Line ships, he says.

Supporting the New Jersey and Las Vegas sites meant a need for a call center and a way to set up communications in storefronts on a short timescale to meet opening-day deadlines, he says.

The company looked at small business unified communications packages from Panasonic and Avaya, but chose Avaya's IP Office for its rich application support but also for the sense he had that Avaya would team up with him. "I was looking for a long-term partnership," he says.

The phone system enables using IP trunks with a PRI handoff to the sites with a range of bandwidth up to 50Mbps provided by local cable companies Cablelvision, ComCast and Optimum. This saves money overall, and the features and flexibility of the unified communications system boosts productivity.

Minervini says with just himself and an IT manager running the network, he called in an integrator to deploy phones and the IP Office server in the first new store, but the integrator turned out to be a disaster and later went out of business, he says. Avaya recommended an alternative partner that he checked out thoroughly and that has performed well.

While each site now has its own server, he's considering setting up a data center in a leased facility to house them with the goal of a more centralized operation that will be more efficient. He wanted to delay that decision until he had a number of stores up and running in order to keep deployments simple and manageable without injecting a new data center layer. "Crawl before you walk," he says.

Minervini chose Avaya for most of the network infrastructure, from core switches, to phones, its call center and Wi-Fi access points.The company has standardized on iPads for its mobile infrastructure and they have many uses. Workers can check emails, receive voicemails as email attachments and, with the Avaya one-X client installed, can make and receive phone calls. He says one worker was checking stock in the warehouse using an inventory app on the iPad while simultaneously engaging in a voice call. "How's that for multi-tasking?"  Minervini says. "We're mobile, and we work around the clock."

The iPads are used in stores as point-of-sale system. When a store is swamped, it sends a salesperson out from behind the counter to take orders from people standing in line, using the iPad to submit the order and make the sale. Staff behind the counter bags the orders and passes them out.

Carlo's Bakery uses cloud application services heavily, especially from, including its CRM app, Service Cloud ticketing app, and its Chatter messaging service. He says decorators in the factory use Chatter to communicate with sales people  who take custom cake orders from customers in order to make sure what they create meets customer specs.

He plans to roll out video consulting over the system next month. Online customers will be able to schedule half-hour appointments with cake consultants to nail down details of wedding cakes, for example, with the consultant able to show options. Customers will receive a URL to follow that ties them into the Avaya video session, he says. He prefers to use native Internet voice, but could use traditional voice to ensure quality.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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