Posted: Fri 20th Dec 2019
Edward Parkes co-founded coffee house The Gentlemen Baristas in London in 2014. By combining great coffee with customer service, he aimed to recapture the spirit of old coffee houses. It's since grown to eight sites across London.
The challenges of being a first-time business owner
One of the biggest challenges was adapting to being a business owner. Neither Edward or co-founder Henry Ayers had run their own business before, so they found roles and responsibilities began to overlap.
"We quickly realised that we had to settle into job roles. We wrote job descriptions for each other so we could be like, 'I'll focus on that' and 'you focus on that'," Edward said.
It's also been tough to build the right team, since customer service sits at the heart of the business. The company's tagline is "well-mannered coffee" and much of the business is built around this idea.
As Edward explained, their interview process focuses on communication and "genuinity". Staff at The Gentlemen Baristas don't follow a script, so it's crucial that new hires can naturally engage with customers and build rapport.
"Something wonderful happened one morning. We walked in and no one was ordering a coffee. Everyone was just arriving at the counter and the staff instantly knew what they wanted. It was great," Edward remembers.
Evolving the business
The team works hard to make sure the business stays relevant. It's important for their food and drink offering to be flexible, so it can be reinvented with each season.
One way the business evolves is by empowering staff to be creative and think about what could be changed or improved on.
"We want to encourage staff to share their ideas because they are the ones that work on the sites every day. They talk to the customers and hear what people are asking for. We really want to celebrate their ideas," Edward said.
Another key area is data analysis. With thousands of transactions a day, the team can track what people are buying, when they're buying it and in what quantities. It provides greater insight into what's popular with customers and helps the business to understand where they might be able to reduce costs.
Keep your values during growth
Edward's advice to anyone else growing a business is to remember why you started it.
"We've got eight sites and 150 staff, so it would be very easy to lose sight of what we originally started this for. You've got to stay motivated. If you lose interest as a business owner, how are you going to inspire your staff to come to work every day and carry out everything you want them to do?" Edward said.
"We still work in the business. We still get our hands dirty. You have to drive the culture and be the one that will do everything."
He also points out the importance of learning to step away and take a break. It can be hard to switch off when you're involved in the nitty-gritty of a business, but it's about finding balance.
"You do have to work hard and put in a ludicrous number of hours," Edward added. "Be efficient with your time when you're at work and then set aside time to step back and not think about things."