Thursday 29 September 2016

Problem solver: I'm French, love food, but unsure about opening a café or selling chocolates

Feargal Quinn

Published 16/06/2016 | 02:30

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Q: I am French and living in Dublin. My family ran a type of deli/café which I was involved in all of my life. I am now considering whether I should open one in Dublin, or alternatively just bake some exclusive French chocolates and sell these as gifts for customers through third-party retailers and cafés?

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A I love French food and I have been fortunate enough that two of my daughters married French men so I probably get to enjoy more French food than I would have otherwise had.

There is always a risk with every project and both of your projects have associated risks. You will need to set about finding out which project will have the least risk, and the greatest return on your investment.

I have visited some of the many great chocolate shops in Paris and they are truly exquisite.

In most cases the price points are significant and the product would definitely be classified as luxury and an occasional spend for most people. You have mentioned that your intention might be to sell these products through third parties.

You also need to consider that there are several well-established Irish chocolate-makers and you will be competing against these.

Ask yourself the question will your product be sufficiently different to compete against everything that is in the current marketplace and will these points of difference be sufficiently strong to support the premium you will need to charge.

Go and talk to a number of retailers who you might intend stocking your product and also get their views. That will help you to narrow down the potential success rate of this project. My initial reaction would be that while it could be a very exciting project, there could be significant limitations in the sales.

We have all noticed the explosion that has occurred in good cafés, bistros and bakeries and by and large the consumer seems to be supporting these in increasing numbers.

Dublin has many fine food emporiums and what you will need to determine whether the city is big enough to support an authentic French deli/café.

Spend some time looking at the current landscape and try to identify where the opportunity gap will exist for your deli.

Undoubtedly your challenge with the deli project is going to be the set up costs involved and the annual lease cost, however I do believe you will have the potential to get far quicker sales through this model than you might be from supplying third parties with high end chocolate product.

It is all about getting the mix of the food, the customer service and the ambiance correct. That sounds easy but in fact is very difficult.

You certainly have the expertise, the passion and the product knowledge to do something very different with your deli project and while I would encourage you to conduct a feasibility study on both, in my opinion the latter may offer you the greater opportunity if you can fund its start up.

Do let me know if it opens as I will be one of your first customers. Bonne chance!

Q: Is it true that your shop managers never had offices when you were at Superquinn?

A: Almost true! The priority for Superquinn managers was to spend time on the shop floor managing their team and greeting their customers. I was always a real fan of M.B.W.A….Management By Walking About!

We didn't need big offices for our managers as they rarely had to use them and we provided very small 'shoe box style' offices which just had enough room for the managers chair, a desk and one other seat.

It certainly wasn't the type of place you would want to be spending a lot of time in which was probably the objective.

I always had great fun with our manager keeping them out of their offices and focusing instead on customers and staff.

On one occasion I gave all of our managers a tie pin which had the following letters on it Y.C.B.S.O.Y.A. On handing the tie pins out at a Company Manager's Meeting, I found everyone staring at me looking for an explanation with a number of managers frantically trying to decipher what it meant.

The answer made perfect sense when you combine it with our policy on offices for our managers. The letters stood for You Can't Do Business Sitting On Your... Armchair.

As you can imagine there was plenty of laughter when they all heard the message, but also a genuine appreciation that good management is about an energised manager team who strive for excellence at all times.

Send your small business questions to himself@feargalquinn.ie

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