UK Coffee Leader Summit Report – Part One

By | May 23, 2009

Hugh and I were kindly invited by Jeffery Young of Allegra Strategies to attend the UK Coffee Leader Summit on the day previous to Caffe Culture.  These events are always useful from a networking perspective (even though that’s generally an expression that puts the fear of god into me) but there was some great content too.

First up was Darcy Willson-Rymer – the MD of Starbucks.  It was a tough day for him, that’s for sure, but I’m not convinced how much of a favour he did himself by treating the audience to a 30 minute press release about how great Starbucks is for the community both locally and globally.  It was always going to be a tough audience to impress and I fear he chose the wrong message.  But hey – what do I know?

After discovering just how wonderful it was for all of his staff to work with people who had learning disabilities we were forced to sit through a saccharine video where we followed the adventures of a little old lady who visits her local Starbucks every day.  Horrendously the music then became a little more emotional and a “four years later” caption was flashed across the screen.  It was impossible not to assume that she had died but no – four years on she was just doing the same thing.  Visiting her local Starbucks and enriching the lives of the employees as much as they enriched hers.  Nice.

Like most of us I actually don’t like to bash Starbucks but when they take themselves this seriously it’s impossible not to start a variety of sentences with “I’m not a Starbucks basher but...”.  Those words appeared in at least 50% of the following speakers talks.

Next up we had Rebecca Hemsley of Pret a Manger speaking about training and coffee as opposed to the food side of the business.  I was sitting with James Shapland (MD of the exceptional 12 site chain Coffee #1) as well as Hugo and it was enlightening to see how much of the work that we had been doing with him tied in with what Pret do.  It’s worth bearing in mind that he is seeing substantial like-for-like growth this year and undoubtedly this is partly due to his relentless focus on great training.

The gist of what Rebecca was saying was this:

* Create great initial barista training

* Create great follow up training workshops (i.e. don’t assume that initial training is enough).  These workshops are there to help create buzz.  One of my pet rants is that many operators forget just how magical the barista process is to the customer.  Clearly Pret are aware of this and she emphasised just how much work and training is involved in keeping this buzz.

* Create a great forum to get feedback from your baristas (even if bad) – and then act on it! 

* They have an internal magazine for Baristas – The Bean

* They mystery shop for coffee and generally… a lot.

* They create a “Magic Moments” book which has a variety of crazy things they do to keep up the buzz.  e.g. Red Tie day – you get a free breakfast if you’re wearing a red tie or free coffee if you can shoot a basketball into a hoop.  It’s easy to be slightly cynical about this stuff 9and it’s not for everyone) but this stuff can be great for certain models (like Prets).

* They show their staff awesome customer service in action by showing Freddie Mercury controlling the crowd at Live Aid.  This is a genius technique that I’ve often used in staff training (although not with Freddie… yet…).  It totally transforms an employee’s (and ideally a manager’s) perception of how to manage people.  

Watch the way he works it here:

Freddie on You Tube


* They really stick to their food principles.  It’s hard to argue with this.  Many of the big chains really dilute (especially the coffee specific ones) as they grow.  I still take clients to Pret as a shining example of how to produce a really great mass produced sandwich.

* Their quality checks are relentless.  This is no surprise to anyone who has run a business of any size.  It may not be sexy or exciting but the only way to create the consistency is to constantly check the quality (and to be prepared to reject).  As I recently quoted in our new book   Henry Royce (Rolls Royce) would maintain that “good enough is NEVER good enough”.  It’s a great mantra.

* they are offering 99p coffees in many locations outside London in an effort not to be seen as the “posh option”.  There is a lot to be said for this but please don’t go adopting it as a knee jerk reaction.  It’s a very well thought out part of their strategy and has many influencing factors.  

* They give away lots of free coffee to their regular customers.  Not in a loyalty card system but as an individually driven reward.  But…

* They have VERY strict controls on wastage and costs.  

Rebecca finished with another Freddie Mercury reference which I thought was very apt:

“We’re fussy and finicky and have very high standards. If a song can’t be done properly, we’d rather il isn’t done at all. We’re the fussiest band in the world, and we put so much loving into every album.”

There was a slight sense of “heard it all before” amongst the audience for the Pret speech but for me there were some real gems.  It may well have contained nothing ground breaking but that’s the case with most successful businesses.  It contained a LOT of “we do well because we work extremely hard at it” messages and very often that isn’t what people want to hear.

I’ll update with the rest after the bank holiday.

Johnnie Richardson

4 thoughts on “UK Coffee Leader Summit Report – Part One

  1. Pingback: Daily News About Freddie Mercury : A few links about Freddie Mercury - Saturday, 23 May 2009 15:51

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