Problem Solver: Freshly-baked bread in our stores was a hot idea which became standard practice
Q: How important was the smell of hot fresh bread in Superquinn? To this day, I still can't pass the smell of beautiful baking in any supermarket.
A: You have answered your own question. Back in 1973 I saw a bakery in a hypermarket owned by the French company Carrefour. The bakery was a real focal point.
I came back full of excitement and we very quickly put together our own version. Boland's, the famous Dublin bakery, would part-bake bread for us and we used a second-hand rotisserie oven to finish the baking
The reaction was tremendous, albeit our execution left a little bit to be desired. It was enough to see huge reactions from customers to hot baked fresh bread and the rest is history. We invested in traditional bakeries in every shop at huge cost.
One day I met a customer at 10am in one of the shops who asked me when was the fresh bread coming out of the oven? The bread that was on display had been baked at 4pm the previous day, and while the bread was fine, the customer said she just loved the bread when it was freshly baked.
From that point on we decided to give all the left-over bread to a local charity and to bake fresh on a daily basis. The reaction from consumers was even greater. Later, we changed the start times of our bakers to ensure we had bakers from 4am to 7pm the following evening in different shifts.
We even installed a big brass bell at the bakery oven which the bakers took great pride in ringing when hot, fresh bread came out. Hot, fresh bread has now become the standard in Ireland, and I hope that our early-day experimentation with our rotisserie oven in some way started a new journey for Irish consumers.
Q: I RUN a medium-sized business and I am keen to explore different ways to get customer feedback. Do you have any thoughts?
A: This was one of the areas we majored in during the Superquinn era. I always had a view that if we were to be successful, we would need to constantly take on board the views of our customers.
We used a multitude of listening mechanisms.
We encouraged our front-line staff to feed back to their managers in a structured way and we had customer comment forms throughout the shop which the manager would review on a weekly basis, take action on and phone any customers who had left their details.
As I have mentioned before in this column, each week I would meet a group of customers in a branch for a coffee and systematically talk through the different parts of the shop with them. This was probably the most inspiring two hours of the week when we got real nuggets of ideas many of which we were able to have actioned in 24 hours.
Another key part of the listening process was to ensure that our managers were constantly available to customers on the shop floor which meant we had an ongoing feed of information from customers and the manager had a "finger on the pulse".
Of course we had lots of formal market research, etc, but your objective should be to create customer listening opportunities through every level of the business.
Q: I recently applied for a bank loan for a new business idea which was rejected. My accountant helped and the feedback was that the financial projections were excellent but the loan panel struggled to understand my business idea and there was not enough detail in the plan for them to understand it. I don't really understand what they are saying.
A: Your accountant created the business plan. The bank apparently were delighted with the numbers.
That makes sense as that is what the accountant specialises in.
If you didn't have any other business advice or expertise on board from creating the business plan, the probability is that the plan was skewed to the financial aspects and failed to pay attention to the wider business aspects of the project.
Remember that when you are applying for a loan or a grant, the panel or person assessing it is 100pc reliant on the information you provide when making a decision as to whether approve it or not. The probability also is that the approval person or people may not know the sector very well.
Your business plan has to be a logical progression from demonstrating a gap in the market, to showing research conducted by others to validate your idea - to lots of details on what you plan to sell, who you plan to sell it to and how you will make them aware of your product or service.
In your case, it sounds like the reader of the business plan could see that the financial end of the project was well thought-through.
However, they failed to grasp the essence of the idea and how you were going to make it all work.
I am sure you have all that detail in your own mind, but you know need to get it down on paper.
I would recommend that you approach your local enterprise office and ask for a mentor who specialises in writing business plans to work with you so that the next time you apply, you get the thumbs up.
Send your questions for Feargal to email@example.com marked 'Problem Solver'