Problem Solver: How can I breathe life into my cafe after 12 years in business?
Q I have been running a cafe for 12 years and I am tired and the business is tired. Is there any magic solution?
A The challenge you describe is not unusual at all and I hear it from many small and medium-sized businesses on a weekly basis. Running any business is hard work, particularly if you have been putting in a sustained level of energy over many years, and can be very tiring.
The chances are you have gained huge experience over this time and have amassed expertise of which you may not even be aware. This expertise is going to help revitalise your business.
Start by taking some time out of the business. Whether it is a weekend away or a week's holiday, you need to break the cycle. Then head off for a day or two and look at lots of other cafes, at what they are doing and how they are presenting their products. That will inspire you with lots of new ideas. During my Superquinn career, I travelled extensively and I found it was a huge source of inspiration and energy for me.
The next most important thing now is that you make changes to your own routine and the structure and processes within the business. Meet with your staff at the beginning of each day for two or three minutes and set out targets for the day in terms of what you want to achieve.
Involve them in setting sales targets and focusing on particular parts of the business that are important to you.
On a weekly basis, sit down and analyse the business and make plans for the coming weeks after reviewing past performance.
It might also be a good idea for you to write a mini business plan to cover the next 12 months. It would give you something clear to aim for and help breathe energy back into the business.
I have no doubt that you have all the expertise needed to move the business on. You just need to move yourself into the right place to do this!
Q I manufacture a unique range of stationery products and I have had quite a lot of success in the Republic of Ireland over the last 10 years. I am being encouraged to look at the export market by my colleagues and I wondered if there is any advice you could provide?
A It is great to hear you are trading well in what is a very crowded category. You mentioned that you are successful in the Republic of Ireland and I wonder would a logical first step be for you to conduct a feasibility study on the Northern Ireland market to see if sufficient business exists there? To me it would seem a logical extension of what you are doing. It is within easy reach for distribution and it may not seem as daunting as going elsewhere.
Also there are some excellent supports available for companies thinking of trading in Northern Ireland for the first time. Acumen http://www.intertradeireland.com/acumen/, which is part of Inter Trade Ireland, has an excellent range of supports and services to assist companies to do cross-Border business.
They will provide local experts on the ground or even pay 50pc of the salary of a sales executive for one year.
If your business is large enough, you should engage with Enterprise Ireland, who have a network of experts who would be able to give you advice.
Of course, there are always cautions when entering a new market and you need to be careful to do a very clear feasibility study on whether there is a demand for your product in the market, how competitive the sector is and what local resources you will have to put on the ground in that area.
You may find partnering with a local distributor, etc, would be your best option.
QWhat was your proudest moment in Superquinn?
AThat question has got me thinking about lots of great things that happened and there isn't really one single answer to your question. The things that always made me proud were when our staff or managers got recognition from others for the great work they did, so events like winning "the best sausage in Ireland" for several years in a row, watching our bakers gain over 30 awards at the national bakery competition and receiving the news that our Hallowe'en brack was voted the best in Ireland, were all very proud moments for me.
Seeing 400 of our staff entertain over half a million people on the streets of Dublin in the St Patricks Day Parade and hand out over 250,000 Superquinn sausages was another stand out moment, as was winning the overall O2 Ability Award in 2005.
However, the moments that had the biggest impact of all, were those simple moments when a customer would approach me and applaud a member of staff for doing something beyond the call of duty. The sheer joy on the customer's face would say it all and their genuine enthusiasm for wanting to make sure that the staff member was recognised was so refreshing.
Pride is about enjoying the success others have achieved and being part of that celebration.