Wednesday 21 February 2018

Problem solver: Avoid catastrophe and plan your family succession now

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Feargal Quinn

Q: I am running a family business with my two daughters, who are in their thirties, I am 65 and have no plans to take it easy in the short term. Are there contingency plans I should be putting into place?

A: As you will be aware, mine was also a family business and we put a lot of work into succession planning. To be honest with you, the risk is far too great to do nothing.

Typically, it takes five years to pass a business smoothly from one generation to the next, so my advice to you would be to start that process immediately. You don't want a situation to arise where you have to leave the business at a short notice and your children are not yet up to speed.

Start by having an open and frank conversation with everyone about your plans to gradually start stepping back over a five-year period. In parallel, start imparting the knowledge that you have to your daughters and do make sure you look at providing them with external upskilling where they might be lacking the experience and knowledge at the moment.

Do put some thought into roles and responsibilities going forward. Someone has to be in charge, as it would be impossible for both of them to have the same responsibilities. What you would end up with would be a case of 'everyone in charge but no one in charge'.

Sometimes within a family, these things can be viewed as sensitive and are not spoken about. The net result can be catastrophic. The only one who can trigger this process is you and you need to start this conversation immediately.

Q: I have opened a café and I am slowly building the business. I am looking to find new and easy ways to engage with the local community to which I am new.

A: WELL done on starting up the business. Being part of the local community and encouraging its residents to see you at the heart of it is an important aspect. I have seen some lovely initiatives over the years and some might be appropriate to you.

Many cafes and restaurants now will encourage mothers and toddlers to come in in the morning time, when it is quiet, and they will have possibly removed some of the tables in order to make room for buggies etc. I was in one café recently which even encouraged a group of mums to book ahead of time, so that they could facilitate them.

You probably close at 6pm or 7pm each evening and the venue is not in use. Why don't you consider offering the café to local charities as a meeting venue and these meetings could be pre-booked at time slots that suit you?

I remember meeting another café owner one morning and when I entered the café, there were approximately 20 ladies knitting. When I enquired as to what was going on, the owner told me that this was the local knitting club, who didn't have a venue.

It suited her to host them one morning a week, as it was a quiet time for her and it added a whole dynamic and buzz to the café. The only thing she asked of them was that they might buy a cup of coffee each. It was a great win-win relationship for everyone.

You might also find it useful to run a few competitions, either on social media or on signage in the café or by partnering with a local newspaper. You would invite local customers to submit recipes, then choose a winner that you would use on your menu for the following month, rewarding the customer for same.

In summary, look for opportunities to reach out and involve your neighbours and the local community. This is all the fun stuff that good business is about.

Q: Where did your passion for customer service come from?

A My father owned a holiday camp in Red Island off the coast of Skerries. The main visitors to the site were UK tourists, who would arrive off the ferry and be brought out by coach. The model my father had built was that guests paid on arrival and everything was included, as he wanted to take the stress out of their holiday. The whole ethos in the holiday camp was for customers to relax and enjoy their stay.

From working there at a young age, I quickly learned that being genuine with the guests and taking a real interest in their stories helped to make their stay more enjoyable. Furthermore, I found I took great pleasure when guests would approach me on the last day and tell me that they had a tremendous holiday and were going home refreshed.

The ethos was simple. The customer was at the centre of everything we did and all the decisions we made revolved around them.

That belief followed me to Superquinn, where we quickly found that the same ethos encouraged customers to come back, again and again.

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