Welcome to the Club!
The Coffee Club was started in 1989 in Queensland in Brisbane’s Eagle Street Pier as one single coffee shop wanting to bring a different taste to the market. Today, the company has more than two hundred and thirty stores around Australia and continues to grow every year. It is one of the hottest franchises to own in the current coffee industry and requires immense hard-work and dedication to manage successfully.
Prabhjot Singh, owner of two of the biggest franchises of The Coffee Club in Australia in Knox and Docklands, says its passion that makes the hospitality industry tick. Coming from a profession not even remotely similar to that of owning a coffee shop, he’s had to learn a lot the hard way, but doesn’t regret a moment of it. G’day India would like to share with you Prabhjot’s story of going from having a desire to living the dream. This month G’day India welcomes you into Prabhjot’s (coffee) club!
G’day: Your working background is as opposite to the hospitality industry as can be! Tell us a little about what you were doing before you got into The Coffee Club?
P: I was actually a marine engineer, so as you can tell, quite a difference! I have worked mostly on ships and containments in the past. I completed my degree from England. I did engineering for seventeen years before switching out of the profession. I came to Australia initially on holiday in 1993. I was then offered a PR and I decided to stay in 1995. At that time, if someone couldn’t pronounce your name, you were pretty much guaranteed not to get the job! But I persisted and finally worked in several engineering related roles for a few years, before I decided it was time to move on and pursue something different. In 2005, I bought a franchise of The Coffee Club in Knox.
G’day: What made you suddenly want to be in the hospitality industry after having spent so long as an engineer?
P: I really actually have always wanted to open up my own little pub! I think it would be so great to have a nice place where people can gather, meet, chat and have great food, share drinks and enjoy themselves. That’s why I decided to get into the business of hospitality and to become a restaurateur.
G’day: Having said that, how did you get into the business of selling coffee? A pub and a Cafe are after all, starkly different!
P: Baby steps. I didn’t want to run into the business, all guns blazing! I think it’s important to start slow and steady, learn in a less risky venture first, then expand from there. I love this business too and at the moment am very satisfied with where I am. I now own this franchise in Knox (right opposite Knox Shopping Centre) and I own a franchise in Docklands. In total, the seating capacity of both restaurants equates to over four hundred customers, so plenty of people to learn from!
G’day: What in particular drew you to The Coffee Club? Why did it stand out to you amongst its competitors?
P: I did a lot of research prior to getting involved in this business as one would reasonably do before heading into such a large and time-consuming venture. I consulted several websites and people in the industry, did a lot of reading and market evaluation. At the end of the day, it came down to one fact. Whilst places such as Gloria Jeans and Muffin Break do have their allure, they do not give customers the opportunity to have a great meal with their coffee. Therefore, the food is what made all the difference. I didn’t want to just serve a muffin or a cookie with my coffee. I wanted people to be able to come in, sit down, have a relaxed family meal with their favourite cup of hot chocolate or even a business meeting here. I wanted to give more to the customer than just the coffee itself. The Coffee Club gives me the perfect opportunity to achieve this and that’s why it stood out for me.
G’day: Many people often comment that owning a franchise of a business as opposed to starting your own is more challenging as you have to adhere to certain rules in place by the parent company. Do you agree with this?
P: Yes and no. Yes, you have to follow rules, but if you prove you are good and that whilst you can follow procedures, you can also think for yourself, they are very accepting, especially in this organization. I always use the best quality, regardless of the price. I am always here when the raw ingredients arrive. I see the ingredients go from delivery to storage to chef to customer and I closely monitor everything myself. Owning a franchise is only challenging if you view it that way. If you try to be innovative, you’ll find nothing stops you. We even now have acoustic bands playing here on Thursdays, which is my own touch. So really, it’s only as hard as you make it for yourself.
G’day: What does customer service mean to you personally?
P: Being professional. I don’t want to hire family or friends and make it into a person affair. I don’t want it to be a sentimental business. I want it to cater for what is the demand. So I hire skilled staff who are capable of doing what they do and from there, we have excellent customer service.
G’day: What do you endeavour to give your customers every time they walk through your doors?
P: To bring quick service, a relaxed ambience, cater to your needs whether you’re here for a family lunch or a business meeting and of course, the very best coffee. Our motto at The Coffee Club is Good Food, Great Service & Excellent Coffee.
G’day: What is the greatest challenge of running such large restaurants?
P: The staff. Everything from managing wages, to bills, to customer service, ensuring everything is kept neat and tidy, all procedures are followed etc. These are challenging aspects of my work. But I love what I do and some of my staff have been with me for a very long time, so I get it all done and still enjoy it. Also the travel between Knox and Docklands can be quite time consuming to do on a daily basis.
G’day: How do you keep your staff motivated to perform at the level you expect from them?
P: Through providing incentives and praise. We have employee of the month rewards and other such incentives to keep them wanting to achieve more. Also consistent appreciation is something everyone values. One important thing though is, come rain, hail or sunshine, whether I’m here or on holiday, I always ensure staff wages are received on time. This helps develop trust between the staff and I, so they want to work honestly and fairly.
G’day: What are the top three things any person needs in order to succeed in this business?
P: Passion, passion and more passion! This is not your typical nine to five career. You will not get home every night at the same time, you will not start everyday at the same time. You have to love what you’re doing if you really truly want to be successful in this business. If you bring passion and dedication with you and you don’t give up, you’ll find you do very well. Also, I always try not to get tangled into the specifics of the everyday work too much like managing front of house and over-instructing staff. I let them do what they know how to do well and I watch by from behind. I always say, I have not bought a job, I bought a business.
G’day: What are your future plans for yourself and The Coffee Club?
P: We are about to renovate at the Knox outlet soon. I want to expand the upstairs floor space a little, to cater better for the demand. On Mother’s Day, for example, we hadn’t opened the restaurant yet and we already had a line outside! So my future plan is to bring in more facilities, more space and more opportunities for customers to enjoy themselves whilst drinking the best coffee around!
By Rahat Kapur