Problem Solver: Integrating into the community is vital for new business
Q: I'm opening a second café in a new town unfamiliar to me. Can you give any advice on how our business can become part of that local community?
A: You are absolutely right to be asking this question. Integrating into the local community was always something that I believed in passionately when I was in Superquinn.
Start by getting involved in local business or community groups, like the chamber of commerce or any similar business development group. This will help you to network with your peers in the business community and make others aware of what you are doing.
You might also identify local initiatives that either you, or your staff, can get involved with, eg you might become the sponsor for a local charity coffee morning or you and your staff might volunteer for some work with the local Tidy Towns, etc.
I remember visiting a café in the West of Ireland mid-morning only to find the place buzzing with a large group of ladies knitting. The owner told me that she had made the café available to the local knitting group as they didn't have a venue of their own. This was organised at a quiet time when customers wouldn't normally be visiting. It was a win-win for everyone.
Finally, your choice of staff will also affect your relationship with your local community. In the ideal world, you should be able to choose staff from that community who will know customers and make them welcome.
Good luck with the café and your new community initiatives.
Q: I'm planning to start a new food business and have done lots of research on the feasibility of my product which is proving very positive. What supports are available to me?
A: I am delighted to hear you have spent time conducting research and determining if your idea is feasible. It is all too easy to copycat other products in the marketplace only to end up in a crowded category and struggle to get sales.
The good news is that there are lots of great supports now available for food start-up businesses. Your primary contact is your Local Enterprise Offices and you should make an appointment to see them where they can fully brief you to the services that are available.
Most Local Enterprise Offices now have a programme for early stage businesses called "Kick Start Your Own Food Business", or similar.
This will help you get the basic knowledge and set out a road map for your journey. Your Local Enterprise Office might also decide to assign a mentor to your project, which would allow you one-to-one advice from an expert in this area.
The Food Academy Programme, which is run by the Local Enterprise Offices in partnership with SuperValu, is also a great initiative.
It takes the form of workshops, mentoring and an opportunity to trial your product in SuperValu shops, if it is suitable. Hundreds of producers have been able to avail of that support and many have become national brands on the back of participating in the Food Academy Programme.
The other recommendation I would make is that you need to get talking with other food producers in your area.
Starting a food business can be a very lonely space and having other producers to talk with and share experiences is invaluable. Some regions have formal food producer networks which are also worth being part of.
I wish you well on your journey.