Q: I run a small but successful business. I have recently been approached out of the blue by a competitor who is willing to buy my business. As I am only 50 years old I hadn't even given the matter any consideration. Could you give me a view?
A: This is quite similar to my own situation when I sold Superquinn. I didn't have a big plan to sell the business but a series of circumstances unfolded and I suddenly found myself with a buyer who was really interested in what we had created. It's not a straightforward decision and there are several factors for you to think about.
What will you do when the business is sold? Are you the type who would be happy to take life a little bit easier or do you have other business ideas you could try out?
Have you more to gain by holding the business and selling it on in another 15 years' time or handing it on to a family member?
Do you currently enjoy running the business and are you still as passionate and energetic about the everyday running of the business?
I know that's a lot of questions, but you really need to be happy within yourself that it is the right decision for you, apart from the financial implications.
The other key thing I found beneficial was to get expert advice. There are lots of specialist companies which will give you great advice on how to ensure that you get the best commercial return and that the deal is constructed in a way that benefits everyone.
Have you considered negotiating some role into the agreement whereby you could still retain an involvement, perhaps as a manager operating the shop for the new owners?
Buyers are not too plentiful in the current economic climate so you do need to take the approach seriously.
At the end of the day it will boil down to a personal decision based around your own happiness and what it is that you want out of life. There is no right or wrong answer
Q: I run a restaurant in the midlands and like everyone else our sales have fallen back over the last number of years. We are doing okay and still making a small profit, but I'm looking for ideas to grow my sales, any ideas?
A: I'm seeing more and more innovative things happening with restaurants that are trying to attract new customers, and I'm not talking about early-bird menus and price offers.
There is a big danger that if you become overly obsessed with 'price only' reasons for customers to come in, you will devalue completely what you have on offer.
Of course you must offer customers some level of reassurance by having some price messaging, but don't let it become the only tool you are using to attract new customers.
I recently noticed on the website for O'Connell's restaurant in Donnybrook that they are committing to buying over 70pc of their ingredients from Irish suppliers.
And a friend of mine told me that Tom O'Connell regularly has evenings where he invites in four or five artisan producers who are supplying the ingredients for your meal. All the starters are served at a buffet by the producers, and you get an opportunity to chat with them as you choose your starter.
What a great experience, and from what I hear the place is packed when he runs these themed evenings.
I know of other restaurants which do a good job of keeping in touch with their key customers through text and Facebook when they have something creative to say, such as running a cookery demo on the restaurant floor before diners settle in to choose their orders for the evening.
One of the things I was passionate about in Superquinn was creating excitement in the shops revolving around new seasons.
One example is when new season Irish strawberries were available. We would create massive displays inside the front door and place a fridge with cream beside them, and our bakers would use them on cream sponges.
There is a big opportunity for every restaurant to bring that excitement into the restaurant and if it means there is an abundance of locally caught fish for one evening, then that should become the hero of the menu.
Tell your customers who caught it and where it was landed and they will love you for it. Far too many restaurants have anonymous boring menus that remain the same for 52 weeks of the year.
Have you thought about teaming up with another local business in your town and running events for each other's customers? I was talking to a restaurateur recently who had teamed up with a local wine shop.
One evening they invited all of the wine shop customers to come to the restaurant for a short cookery class and over 40 customers turned up, the majority of whom had never been in the restaurant before.
A few weeks later it was the turn of the restaurant's customers to be invited to a wine and food pairing evening at the wine shop, which again benefited both businesses.
I suppose the broad message I'm giving you is you need to be terribly active, stay close to your customers and generate a sense of excitement within the business.