Watch: Creating an all-day cafe culture
Colin McClean founded the Bob & Berts coffee chain in 2013 with a very clear goal in mind.
“I wanted to create a brand that would operate throughout the day, from morning to evening, by having a menu that served fresh food cooked on site to order.”
This fresh food offering would be the brand’s key point of difference with established multinational coffee chains. The strategy worked: within five months of opening the first shop in Portstewart, County Londonderry, Colin opened a second site five miles down the road and a third site four months after that.
Within a year the business had grown to four coffee shops, and in February 2015 Colin’s brother-in-law David Ferguson joined as co-founder.
Together the pair continued to grow the business, expanding across Northern Ireland to Stranmillis, Lisburn, Omagh and Dungannon.
“By 2017 we were up to 18 stores, and that’s when a friend of ours approached us and asked what our aspirations were for the business,” explains David, who worked in finance previously.
“It was through those discussions that we began talking to BGF.” After working on the business model and putting together a robust growth strategy that would suit a partner, Colin and David spoke to several investors, but it was BGF who stood out most.
“We felt like they understood our brand and what we wanted to do. We wanted to grow the business our way and they had the confidence in us to let us do that,” says David.
More than funding
Six months later the deal was agreed, with BGF investing £2m into the brand and helping the founders appoint the industry expert, Mohan Mansigani, former CEO of Casual Dining Group as non-executive chair.
“Mohan’s been very helpful and opened new doors for us. And having a board with monthly meetings has helped us to formalise the business and improve our financial reporting – so we now have much more visibility across everything we do.”
Bob & Berts has since opened over 10 new stores across Northern Ireland and Scotland and increased staff levels to over 400 employees – “faster than we would have done otherwise” – updated the kitchen equipment across all 20 sites, brought in more area managers and improved the organisation’s efficiency and structure overall.
“It’s allowed us to do a wide range of things, but most importantly, it’s allowed us to open new sites and invest in the people and systems behind them,” says Colin.
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