Monday 20 November 2017

Can you provide any lessons on opening a cookery school?

Senator Feargal Quinn
Senator Feargal Quinn

Feargal Quinn

Business advice from former Superquinn supremo, Feargal Quinn.

Q I run a restaurant which is performing well and I am considering opening a cookery school.   What should I be considering?

Feargal repies: I will answer the question in two different ways. Firstly, how successful are existing cookery schools? While I am aware of a small handful of hugely successful ones that are booked out for months in advance, you need to be certain that all of those other cookery schools out there are making money and are able to carve out a niche for themselves with enough revenue to support the business. Somehow, I think this may be difficult in more recent times.

Another observation: why are you diversifying what is a successful business, instead of replicating that success in another geographical area? My advice to anyone like you who is undergoing success and is at the point of expansion, is to replicate what you know well, by setting up another site at a different location if that is a possibility. You know the café and restaurant business well. Clearly your customers are responding to what you are doing. You have all the skillsets and resources to do this and to me, it would seem a more obvious expansion route.

Faraway hills are very often greener than they might look. You may have found some very compelling research to open the cookery school but from what you are describing, I would advise you to tread very carefully. Stay focused on what you know best!

Q I run a small grocery store and we have been independent for 30 years but are finding it increasingly difficult to survive. Do you think we should join one of the symbol groups?

Feargal replies: The dynamics of convenience retailing have changed dramatically over the last eight years. Many independent convenience retailers tell me that consumers have stopped buying ambient groceries to a large degree and prefer instead to stock up on these at the larger retailers.

Where most independent convenience retailers make a living is from the perimeter of their shop from areas like their deli counter, bakery, etc. A lot depends on your skillset within the fresh side of the business as this is likely to be the part of the business which will drive sales and profitability for the future. The advantages of joining one of the symbol retailers can be seen over several levels. The symbol group will have vast experience in consumer trends and new formats in fresh food which appeal to these trends.

They will also bring a team of people with them who will help guide you on laying out your shop to maximise profitability.

Of course there is also instant brand recognition, once the consumer sees the name over the door they understand the product range that they are going to get.

The downside, if you can call it a downside, is that you have less control and flexibility within the business as you are buying into a 'format'. You will also be required to buy a high percentage of your goods from the symbol owner and pay a percentage fee.

I would always encourage any retailer to try and remain independent, but only if this makes commercial sense and if you have the skillsets to take the business onto the next level. If you are finding yourself alone and the business is not performing as well as it could, then it makes perfect sense to explore any external help which could reverse this situation. The fact that you are moving from an independent to a symbol retail operation should not be seen as failure, but rather the next chapter.

Do you have problems with your small business? Email Feargal at

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