Problem Solver: Baking firms should be combined to keep ventures on the rise
Q I run a small but growing bread business. A good friend runs an early stage cake business from the same premises and we have combined to create a third business producing fresh donuts, how can we grow all three businesses?
A My concern lies around how these businesses are going to be managed and in particular, I would worry greatly about the shared business. What is going to happen when each of your own businesses gets busy and there is no time for the shared business? Which one will get the priority? I will have a bet with you now that you will each retract back to protect your own individual business and ignore the needs of the new business when things get really busy.
Why don't you consider bringing all these related categories together in one business? Set up an ownership structure that is fair to you both and allocate different responsibilities within the business to each of you. Perhaps one of you takes responsibility for all production and the other for sales and distribution, etc.
As yet another motivation to pull all the businesses together, put yourselves in your customers shoes, whether that as a local shop owner or a consumer on the street. They are not interested in the fact that this is three separate companies and will find it totally confusing if they are seeing you representing different products on separate occasions. Come together and build one strong united brand. That is where you will make your money.
Q What are your thoughts on the various campaigns and brands in the market place designed to promote Irish products. Are they effective?
A I recognised 30 years ago the importance of promoting Irish products and the sense of satisfaction customers got from being able to support Irish producers. I can remember approaching our IT team and challenging them about how we could showcase these products to help customers make their decisions.
While the solution was not simple, we were able to devise a system, well ahead of when it was fashionable to do so. Each Irish product on the shelf had a shamrock in front of it and when the customer purchased this product an asterix would appear on their till receipt. When the bill was totalled, a sub total appeared for their Irish purchases.
The reaction from customers was fantastic. Now they could make an informed decision at a glance and for those customers that were passionate about buying Irish products, it was a great tool.
Q I have three managers working for me but have never set out a job description for them, any ideas?
AThe formal definitions you will find in any text book of management include a vast array of tasks like leading, motivating, delegating, managing, financial performance, excelling at customer service, etc. My favourite, has always been that "management is achieving results through people" and in whatever job specification you create, you need to make sure that ethos is reflected.
One of the things I did rather humorously in Superquinn when I appointed each new manager was I gave them a tie pin or scarf clip with the following letters on it "YCDBSOY ... A". That stood for "You can't do business sitting on your ... .armchair", what that said to our managers was the management process is highly energised and relies on the manager creating a culture of continuous improvement and world class standards.
The fact that our managers' office was the customer service desk in full view of the customer was no accident! I didn't want a manager spending hours on end in the back room.
One of the other things you might want to consider when defining the role of your managers is to look at the skillsets they currently have and perhaps identify some skillsets that are missing. I was always passionate about providing my managers with the opportunity to further their education and at one point over 50pc of our front line managers had all achieved an MBA in Retailing.
One big objective for me was that each manager should feel that the branch they were running was in fact their own shop. I recall at one of our annual managers' planning meetings, I presented each manager with a large photograph of their branch exterior. I had however got our marketing department to digitally remove the Superquinn name from over the door and replace it with the manager's own name. The reaction was amazing, with managers taking a whole new approach to managing their "own shop".