In my world

03 June, 2011
Page 16 

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

As I sat in the sunshine enjoying a double macchiato outside one of the iCafé stores, a thought came into my mind. I would have loved an ice cream with my coffee. And I don't know of a decent ice cream parlour in Glasgow. There are one or two here and there, but nothing to the way they should be. So I couldn't help but do a mind-map of an ideal coffee and ice cream concept

Many days and burnt brain cells later, I have what I call a perfect combo between food, coffee and ice cream. The only factor missing is the sun. How do we get more sun in this country? Since we cannot control the weather, I will have to do more market research and find out for myself first-hand whether this will be the biggest factor, or whether that perfect offering of luxury ice cream, gourmet food and coffee would be enough to entice people to come in throughout all seasons of the year.

In my voluntary role with the Scottish Enterprise, I hear time and again how an entrepreneur has come up with an idea, spent time on developing the "concept" and just brought it to life. Despite this entrepreneurial spirit, what may work in our minds may not necessarily be what the market wants.

I say this with first-hand experience. In 2010, I developed a brand new concept called iCafé To Go! With five years of continued success and steady growth, I persuaded the board of directors that it would be a good move to bring the iCafé 'brand' and offerings to the food-to-go market. Six months later, we had secured a small premises in a prominent location, but in order for the exposure to be as low as possible, we acquired a unit that was a fair bit bigger than the original spec, so we could incorporate a separate central kitchen for the whole iCafé operation, bringing a lot of the product development centrally. Now, what we found was that the ideal iCafé concept just did not work in the area we went into and we had to change the offering to suit what the market wanted which was not gourmet sandwiches and paninis with excellent coffee, but a more budget range featuring toasties, sausage rolls, and so on. This goes completely away from the iCafé concept and, after a lot of debate, we are now changing the whole idea and calling it something else, as we cannot change the whole brand theme.

The area may not be suitable, but I will give this a go in a high footfall area, while we develop this unit into something else other than iCafé To Go! So I made an error with my planning and did not do local market research; had I done this, we would have called it another name instead of expanding the iCafé brand into that unit.

So please do your homework. We won't get everything right, but if we did, life would be very boring!

As for my latest ice cream and coffee bar concept, I will certainly spend time doing local market research.





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