Problem solver: Seek senior funding advice and consider property sell-off for family firm investment
Q: I have taken over the family business from my parents. Significant investment needs to be made in five of our 10 sites, but I am not sure about how to raise funds for this.
A: The broad answer is to seek senior level funding advice. This is a specialist area and you need special advice.
Notwithstanding that, logic says to me that you are probably sitting on a reasonably high value for each of the sites and you should have no problem securing funding.
You could also consider selling one of the lower-performing sites in order to fund investment into the others, but a lot will depend on the individual performance of each outlet.
You should also look at each site from a property investment point of view, rather than the current business. I recall in Superquinn that we got a pleasant awakening one day when we took a property developer to look at a site on which we had failed to secure planning permission for a supermarket. To our astonishment he saw totally different uses for the site and valued it at a multiple of the price we had paid for it.
In our narrow focus, we had looked at it as a single-level supermarket with a large car park. The property developer looked at it as a multi-storey residential and office development that would yield far greater returns on the price paid.
You may be sitting on sites which are valued far greater than you believe them to be.
Q: I'm proud of the business built up by our team, and people have suggested that we should target some industry prizes, but I wonder if entering and even winning competitions is really worth the energy and effort?
A: My experience is that it can add enormous value to your business. During my time in Superquinn we won dozens of awards and I can say honestly that many of these contributed in a significant way to building the overall Superquinn brand and the reputation for the individual product.
The Superquinn sausage, which is still on sale today, won a whole series of awards year after year and it was the winning of these awards, combined with the quality of the product, that helped to position it as the iconic brand that it is. Of course, winning an award is only one thing. It is what you do with that win that is even more important. You have got to be prepared to invest some money in celebrating the win and promoting it to your customers.
I can remember standing in one of the large rooms in a hotel with all 139 Superquinn bakers after we had won the majority of the awards at the bakery competition. Our marketing manager at the time had come up with a great idea and we asked the bakers to stand in a formation that replicated a cake.
This photograph was published in all of the national newspapers and became an iconic symbol of what we represented within the craft bakery industry.
Select a small amount of competitions that are most appropriate for your business and make a start here. Good luck!
Q: What were your golden rules with regard to delivering great customer service?
A: I would put hiring the right people at the top of my list. If the person has the right attitude, then you can train them to do any other task within the company. Service will come naturally to them.
Putting customers at the centre of all business decision-making, from the boardroom down, is also an important key step.
There has to be a culture of putting the customer first within the business.
I often referred to the Boomerang Principle in my Superquinn days. If you throw the boomerang correctly it will come back to you.
If you look after your customers well, they too will come back to you. You need to succeed in getting everyone in the business to understand this approach.
Finally, I would emphasise the need for constant investment in training and re-training.
Customer service is like many other topics, it will be high on people's priority list immediately after training.
However, over time it will gradually decline, and will therefore need to be reinforced from time to time.
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