Friday 19 January 2018

Problem Solver: I want to open a café, but where will I get advice?

Feargal Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke
Feargal Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke

Feargal Quinn

Q: I am looking at starting up a café but I am unsure about where to go for advice and training.

A: Start by going to talk with your Local Enterprise Office to see what supports they might be able to offer. Technically you are not a manufacturing business so I suspect you won't be able to qualify for grant assistance. However, there may be other supports like mentoring which could be relevant to you.

From your email it sounds like you haven't run a café before and that would worry me greatly. If I were in your shoes I would go and find another café owner who would be willing to take you in on work experience and where you could spend several months learning the industry.

Lots of people make the mistake of thinking running a café is going to be like having friends over to visit. It is a complex business and difficult to make money. You really need to know the industry and how to manage your operation tightly.

What gross margin are you targeting? What controls are you going to put into place to measure profitability each week? How will you keep your menu fresh over time so you stimulate consumers? How are you going to stand out and be different than all the other cafés in your region?

These are all fundamental questions which you need to be able to answer before you consider opening. Some catering colleges also have programmes to assist you with some of the skillsets required and some private cookery schools also provide café-specific workshops and programmes.

It is fantastic to hear you are thinking of opening a café, and I don't want to appear negative. But I do want to ensure you recognise the challenges and upskill before you open, in order to prevent you making mistakes. Good luck with the project and do bear in mind that I am partial to great coffee and would love to drop in the next time I am passing.

Q: I have been pushing my business hard to keep things afloat over the last five years and am now tired and trying to re-energise myself. Can you give me some advice?

A: There are many independent business owners in a similar position. The more recent years have been very difficult and many business owners have had to put their shoulder to the wheel in order to keep the business afloat and in some cases the business owner has had to extend their own role and their hours in order to compensate for less staff in the business.

My first piece of advice is, that whatever it takes you need to arrange to take a holiday of at least two weeks if you haven't had one in the last 12 months. To start the process of re-energising and refocusing yourself you need to clear your mind.

Next you need to sit back and take a look at the business and produce a plan of where you want to take it over the next number of years.

You might find it beneficial to also talk with your Local Enterprise Office who could probably provide you with a mentor in the right circumstances who would challenge your thought processes and bring some external thinking to your plans.

If you are running the business with a tight number of staff, it may be impossible to trigger any extra sales so you might need to consider investing money in increasing the staff levels slightly in order to allow you to step back into the role of managing the business and driving new sales.

In your plan you will need a structured action list of marketing initiatives, ideas to grow sales and other practical initiatives.

You will find the whole process of writing a plan and reviewing the business re-energising and it will demonstrate to you the opportunities that exist. It might also be an idea to get yourself involved in some business network group or an industry sector group where your business peers gather from time to time.

It will help to keep your mind stimulated and show you where opportunities are.

The most important thing right now is that you take a break from it all and then worry about the plan after that.

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