In my world - the café owner

27 February, 2009
Page 18 

Umer Ashraf is owner of Glasgow-based iCafé. He has three shops and plans to expand

People often ask me what impact the recession is having on my business and I answer, "We're actually not that bad." The truth, though, is that we are as bad as the business next door or the one further down the road on some fronts, but much better, secure and robust on others.

As well as coffee, we sell paninis, wraps, gourmet sandwiches, nachos, hot and cold filled bagels and baguettes.

Everyone in this industry is affected one way or another. If it isn't the rising costs, it is the declining sales. If it isn't the declining sales, it is probably the profitability. After all, our general prices have gone up, and our sales have come down. But not everything is this gloomy. What we have to remember is that everything has a counter-effect and perhaps we are forgetting those many opportunities these tough times have created.

For me, I have looked at a few and started my latest project. I am taking a brand new concept, called Paradise Bay, to the beautiful city of Oban. It's a juice and smoothie bar - nothing new to this industry I agree, but it's how I have done it that will make the difference - and I'll be selling croissants, Danish and the other baked goods, as before.

My vision for the iCafé chain of coffee houses has grown from strength to strength, but in the present climate, things are moving rather slowly on the expansion front. Instead, everyone at iCafé has focused their energies on making the business more robust and bringing in systems we perhaps couldn't have before. This gives me an opportunity to explore what else is out there and grow my little business empire by making the best of the deals that exist - whether it be incentives on the rentals, incentives from suppliers or simply the change in the market trend giving new concepts an opportunity to test the waters or, dare I say, grow.

There was a time when consumers were going for a premium range on most things. Now, they want a value range on most things, as everyone is watching their total spend. Paradise Bay focuses on bringing premium-range products at value-range prices - a win-win result for everyone. As a business, we will provide a far superior product for the price, resulting in repeat custom due to value for money, quality and the whole offering.

The store is due to open on 20 March and, in my forthcoming column, I will tell you how I got on with the launch. What were the good points and the bad points and what worked, and did not work... so watch this space!

For now, I will leave you with this quote by Johann Wolfgang: "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."





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