Is having the cash from a national name to back your brand the key to grow, or are bakery retailers best off funding their own businesses?
As many have pondered in recent months, Tesco’s 49% investment in artisanal coffee shop business Harris + Hoole has resulted in an amalgamation of “Beware” signs posted online and in the national press.
“The trendy chain of posh coffee shops that’s Tesco in disguise: Pop in for a latte and it looks like a quirky family business,” reads a recent article on the Daily Mail website.
While the words ‘Tesco’s 49% investment’ have been bolded and underlined again and again in news stories, I wonder whether this taints the general public’s perception of an independent company, particularly this one set up by the Aussie siblings behind Taylor Street Baristas.
I speak to two ladies, probably in their sixties, passing me on the local high street in Pinner, north-west London. They are stood with Wenzel’s the Bakery on one side of them - a local, independent and family-run business - and the latest Harris + Hoole outlet on the other.
“Which out of the two do you prefer?” I ask the women. One responds with: “[Harris + Hoole] seems a bit too dark inside, and have you seen the price of their tea?”
Brushing off the aesthetic-themed answers, I ask a second question: “Do you know Tesco have plumped a large investment in this business? In fact, they have a 49% stake in it.”
I’m greeted with blank looks and a chorus of female laughter. “No dear, that’s not the problem,” is the final answer I receive as they shuffle off together.
Upon stepping inside the latest branch of the now 10-store-strong estate, I get the impression that this does not bother the hoards of customers seated inside and queuing up at the till. Just after the lunchtime rush, around 2pm, a mixture of yummy mummys, college students, couples, OAPs and local folk have filled the last of the empty chairs and tables.
Whether people know the Tesco tag is attached to the front door, or if people are blissfully unaware of the supermarket’s involvement. It does not seem to be putting off customers from pursuing their everyday coffee and cake rituals at Harris + Hoole.
While the media hype behind this investment has evidently not put off coffee drinkers from visiting the establishment, I wonder whether the idea still deters many of our UK high street craft bakeries from leaping at an opportunity to partner up with a supermarket giant, or any other nationally-known financial investor, should the opportunity arise.
Is there a stigma attached to such a deal that you and your business would be classed as a sell-out? Or it does it mean that your business could flourish and take the hassle out of the cash behind success?
To balance the negative media hype played out in such a dramatic fashion, the Aussie coffee connoisseurs took a risk with Tesco partnership and the steady stream of customers should now be that peace of mind that their gamble has paid off.
Ultimately what all businesses are looking for in the current rocky economic climate is getting people through the door. If the public was so put off by the concept then, frankly, Harris + Hoole would have been the next high street casualty of many currently marring the bleak retail landscape.