In my world

09 April, 2010
Page 20 

Umer Ashraf is a young entrepreneur who owns the Glasgow-based iCafé chain of shops, as well as smoothie and juice bar Paradise Bay in Oban, Scotland

The three words to describe my last month are good, bad and ugly: good because we met our first quarterly sales target for the new flagship store in Woodlands Road; bad because our store on Great Western Road didn't meet the target and went slightly over budget; and ugly because we have a dormant site on Gibson Street, that has been costing the company an arm and a leg and, if things get uglier, it may cost the company a kidney or another organ too.

The site traded very well until 11 May 2009, when we had to close, due to a fire next door. Although our café wasn't damaged by the fire, we had extensive water and smoke damage, mostly caused by the fire brigade.

To date, we have only had a small amount of payment from the insurers, as they are doing their best to hold on to the money for as long as possible. On top of this, we have issues with our landlord and, to my expense, I have found out that the lease was not watertight. Taking action against him over a breach in terms has been very costly not just to the company but also to me personally as, back in the day when the company wasn't as big it is now, I personally guaranteed the whole term of the lease. That's not too bad if you have an understanding landlord, but if you have one like we do for that particular premises well, let's just say that the word "ugly" might be an understatement.

We are in a legal battle with the landlord and the ordeal continues, but let me share some of my findings and lessons:

1. Make sure you have a watertight lease. It is better to have a lengthy "negotiation phase" and wait a bit longer than to rush and get worked up about not getting the unit fast enough, because your shop-fitters are ready to go in, or you need to open by summer, etc.

2. Never personally guarantee the whole term of the lease especially if you are not a sole trader. In the current economic times, it is a buyer's market. If you have to give a personal guarantee, only do it for the first three years maximum until you can show good accounts. Do not guarantee the whole term of 10, 15 or 25 years.

3. In the event of a mishap such as fire, flood, burst water pipe or anything else that results in an insurance claim make sure you appoint your own loss adjuster. Remember, the loss adjuster that comes out after you put a claim in is usually the insurer's loss adjuster! It will cost you a few quid to appoint your own, but it will be well worth it. They will keep you right, every step of the way.

4. If you ever find yourself in a position where you are in dispute over something, make sure you fix a rate or negotiate an agreement with your lawyer. Fighting disputes can be very long and no one can tell how long the meter will be running for. By capping the rate, you may save yourself a good chunk of money. Take time to find a good lawyer who specialises in corporate or business disputes, if you don't already have one. Just like some other businesses, some lawyers are also 'jack of all trades master of none!' The lawyer I have now is brilliant. If yours isn't good, get a new one.

So there you have it... my good, bad and ugly month. Next time, I will give you an update on how I got on. For now, I will leave you with this thought: "The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem."





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