Be Inspired Series
The Belfast Coffee Company
Denis worked in the prestige sector of the retail motor industry, then for Nacco in the 80s. He also worked with his wife who has been in the retail sector for 20 years with her own business in Lisburn.
What does your job involve day to day?
I like to open up the cafe at 7.30am as we are confident there is early business on Royal Avenue. It also gives me a chance to review sales with my chef Declan and look at our menu for the day.
I like to take a hands-on approach from opening time until mid-morning and then catch up with regular clients for conversation and to get market feedback about their experience on the day. I strongly advise them to let me know what needs adjusted.
My main role is managing customer service especially over a very busy lunch period and afternoons are usually tied up with paperwork, marketing plans and tactics such as guerilla marketing on the avenue and outside the café.
I strongly believe in person-to-person marketing and enjoy the satisfaction of speaking to people outside of the cafe and seeing them arrive later or the next day as a result.
A lot of cafes went out of business during the recession -- why start one up now?
There is never an easy time for any new business venture -- if it was easy then everybody would do it. However, the specialist quality non-chain coffee cafe is a growth industry and still has room to expand and the UK coffee market has shown resilience in 2009 with 6.2% growth.
There has also been a high interest in customers wanting the artisan private non-chain option. Interestingly stats for the chains have showed almost a 50% drop in growth compared with 2008. I believe people are getting tired of the big monster approach and really do like to support local business. The feedback I get from customers is it is refreshing to see homemade in-house quality food on offer at good value.
I have also been encouraged by the comments of: "Well done, good on you for not lying down, and having a go in these difficult times."
What have been the biggest challenges since Belfast Coffee Company opened?
The biggest challenge has been learning about the coffee journey, the science of the coffee market and also the challenge of recruitment, building choice, fit-out and cost-effective utilisation of all our resources.
The challenge is greater as the buck stops with me. I have worked in tougher jobs in the service sector where customers' expectations have not been met by the manufacturer. I am confident that the Belfast Coffee Company is managing to change that and is up for the challenge of maintaining the standard and keeping the trust with its customers.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Being self-sufficient and being my own boss. I really like the satisfaction of knowing you have presented, delivered and received as a result of being professional at what you do. I also appreciate the high customer satisfaction rate that we are achieving. However that doesn't mean we will be resting on our laurels as you're only as good as the next sale.
How do you differentiate yourselves from the other cafes and big chains already in Belfast?
We have made our coffee house different in its style and presentation with a strong attachment to the 'Belfast' brand. Our building tells its own story and our coffee and produce is in the top sector of quality food and coffee in Northern Ireland.
My staff are excellent and are really enjoying the challenge of succeeding and the benefit of working in a lovely environment in an up-and-coming area of Belfast close to the Cathedral Quarter. Our unique selling point is offering a high quality chocolate with your beverage which has been very well received by our customers and sets us out as unique in the Belfast coffee market.
How has your background and previous work experience helped in your latest venture?
My background is in the prestige sector of the retail motor industry, along with a great grounding in quality when working for American-owned Nacco in the '80s, has benefited me greatly.
Also the experience of working with my wife who has been in the retail sector for 20 years with her own business in Lisburn has given me great insight into the day-to-day running of a small business.
What sort of personality, skills or training are needed for the job you do?
A natural ability to be customer facing is essential as so many people in the service industry either don't have that skill or haven't been trained in this.
What are your aspirations for the business?
My ambition is to make the company profitable and then roll it out to another part of the city and airports. I would love to set up in North America but perhaps that's a fantasy instead of a dream. Interestingly I had American visitors from Denver and they thought it was a franchise. They are business people in Denver and have actually started correspondence with me, so you never know.
What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be anxious for nothing and take one day at a time.
What advice would you give to someone keen to start their own business?
Don't be over dependent on the banks, don't think that deficits will always work out, be careful and do a proper marketing plan.
If at all possible you should approach a private investor instead of the banks.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy my family life and involvement with my church.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I survived a head-on collision in 1983 sustaining 22 fractures and medical experts said I would never run again but thankfully I have been an active sports participant since.
Who or what has inspired you most in your life or career?
My late grandfather Samuel Troughton Senior inspired me by living until 90. He was a D-day Veteran Royal Ulster Rifles soldier wounded in action. He was an inspirational man who never gave up, even through war and poverty during the 1930s and his motto was to stand on your own two feet, be independent, always deal honestly and face your responsibilities.