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When James Cameron and John McCormack visited Paris 10 years ago they instantly fell in love with the food and ambience of a bakery-cafe called Le Pain Quotidien.

The cafe, whose name means ‘daily bread’ in French, served up dusty, artisan-style loaves and wonderful pastries and tarts in a rustic environment featuring recycled wood and a homely atmosphere. A communal table created an informal atmosphere welcoming people and encouraging them to meet and talk.

Cameron and McCormack liked it so much they yearned for a similar eatery in Australia.

“(But) we thought it too French and too sophisticated for the Australian market,” Cameron recalls. “We didn’t realise it was a franchise at that stage and we fantasised about opening an LPQ in Australia.”

Over the next few years, they returned to Paris regularly and took the opportunity to conduct further research into the business and assess its potential for the Australian market. A big question mark, though, was whether its Parisian charm would be lost in transportation. An examination of other markets emboldened the Sydney pair.

Cameron explains: “Three years ago we visited Paris, London and New York and decided to explore the (LPQ) bakeries in those cities and compare the English version with the French – to our surprise both London and New York were more successful than Paris.”

Encouraged, they touched down in Australia with fresh dreams of their own Le Pain Quotidien stores in Sydney and Melbourne. 

“On our return home we immediately emailed the company registering our interest in bringing LPQ to Australia,” Cameron says.

A positive response put them on their way.
A learning curve

Launched in 1987 by Belgian chef Alain Coumont in search of a superior loaf of bread, Le Pain Quotidien now has scores of cafes in more than 10 countries.

With a philosophy that bread should nourish not only the body but the spirit as well, it has proven a hit from Brussels to New York, Moscow and – thanks to Cameron and McCormack – Sydney. They have opened two stores in the city’s cafe hubs of Leichhardt and Surry Hills.

Cameron admits the initial business stage proved challenging for the pair as they came to terms with the processes involved in buying the rights to the franchise.

Even with expert advice, bringing Le Pain Quotidien down under has been difficult for these entrepreneurs.

“Although we had experience in running businesses before, we had never been involved with a franchise and the levels of reporting required,” Cameron says. “There are no shortcuts in this process and it is important to follow contractual arrangements to the letter.

“I have a food and beverage retail background, but no experience in hospitality so the learning curve was a huge one. I didn’t realise how little I knew the industry before we entered it.”

While both men had always focused on plans and goals to maintain momentum, they agree that a third ingredient has been essential to the success of the Sydney cafes.

“Loving what you do and learning and experiencing new things is a buzz,” Cameron says.

High price to pay

Bringing a new cafe concept to Australia has been exhilarating for Cameron and McCormack. The costs, however, have added up.

“Capital expenditure and fit-out costs are enormous and before we opened we relied upon the franchisor’s experience,” Cameron says.

Weighing up the pros and cons of buying an established business and brand is important for would-be cafe owners.

“An established business can have its advantages, but the good ones don’t come cheap. For our level of experience and style of business I think our franchise relationship is an excellent way to go – it helps with systems and set-up, but still leaves room for local flair and decision-making.”

The LPQ venture has also underlined the importance to Cameron and McCormack of a strong business relationship. A financial, emotional and physical attachment to the business is essential from day one.

“Our commitment is very strong and our roles in the business are well defined. I think the support we offer each other is fantastic and it is a hard job to do on your own so it’s all good from this end.”

Opening more doors

Cameron and McCormack are preparing to open their third Le Pain Quotidien store in Sydney, using the knowledge they have gained along the way to ensure its success. They are also exploring options for the Melbourne and south-east Queensland markets.

Cameron admits business is not always smooth sailing.

“With first-hand experience I would do it much differently for our third restaurant,” he says. “We started this business very gung-ho and had spent a lot of money on restaurant fit-out and capital expenditure and I think, in hindsight, we could have saved a few dollars there.”

Also at the top of the agenda in ensuring success are two key factors: working in all levels of the business, and hiring the right people. Cameron comments: “We have never been afraid to get our hands dirty – we lead by example and become part of the team.”

Staff training is also an important component of the business.

“Keep training and encourage people to become the best they can. Don’t expect superstars in two weeks – give people a chance to get to know the job and, if they don’t work out, move them on quickly when that decision has been made.”

Word-of-mouth campaigns and cheap marketing strategies have also helped drive business.

“One advertising medium that works well in the local area is direct mail – never underestimate its power,” Cameron says. “This seems to be the best way to build the business.”

With these strategies now well entrenched, Cameron and McCormack are confident of ongoing success as their love affair with the LPQ concept continues. They realise, though, that success does not come overnight.

“Although we don’t get it right every time we are achieving high standards. This, in turn, has led to fantastic customer response and a lot of repeat and referral business.”

Entrepreneur’s diary
When starting a business...

Do your homework first, and if in doubt – don’t (proceed). Create a plan and, whatever you think your budget will be, double it.

Being a leader means...

(Being) honest and keeping your word, sleeping well at night and setting the right example.

The hard parts of running the business are...

The hours, and that the buck stops with us. If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. Managing cash flow is also a juggling act.

The unique thing about our business is...

The combination of being a bakery, a patisserie, a restaurant all with an organic focus.

If a customer complains we...

Take on board the comments and try to turn it around into a positive – we try not to make the same mistake twice.

You should always pay for…
The best advice. You’ll get your money back five-fold.
If we lose focus we...

Would not be in business – our strength is to maintain every day jobs and tasks at the highest possible standard and never lose sight of the minor details.

One lesson we learned is...

This is a tough industry to be successful in and is all consuming.

Two words that describe us are...
Hard working.
10 rules for starters...
  1. Have courage and commitment, and stay focused on the business.
  2. Pay for expert advice and get plenty of it. It pays you back four-fold when things get tough.
  3. Build a good relationship with your bankers.
  4. Maintain a commitment to quality.
  5. Support your staff and train, train, train.
  6. Be prepared to work around the clock for the first two years.
  7. Have self-belief and follow your gut feeling.
  8. Create a business plan with realistic outcomes.
  9. Choose staff carefully and do whatever you can to keep the good ones.
  10. Focus on quality and give great service.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

 

Published on: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

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