Monday, July 29, 2013

New burger bar educates Weymouth’s taste buds

Two catering novices opening a burger restaurant during a crisis over beef food products doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. But business partners Emma Cogan and Ross Kay did just that, and eight months later, their new venture is flourishing.

The Dorset Burger Company, in Weymouth, was created by Emma and Ross in just four weeks last October. Both had previously been Vice-Principals at Weymouth College, but chose to swap the world of education for the adventure of owning their own business.

Between picking up the keys and opening the door to customers, the joint owners put long hours into converting the ex-Chinese restaurant, going so far as to build all the tables and benches themselves.

Safe but different

With no background in retail catering, opting for the simple concept of selling burgers seemed a sensible choice, helped by the Californian recipes that came through Ross having a background in the USA.

What sets the Dorset Burger Company (DBC) apart is a commitment to locally-sourced produce, evidenced by a map in the window showing exactly where their beef comes from. This commitment is accompanied by an enthusiasm to experiment and innovate; since opening, the menu has grown from 6 to 15 different types of burger.

Judging by the level of repeat business, customers like what’s on offer at DBC. Their feedback has lifted the restaurant into the top 5 on TripAdvisor for Weymouth, with Emma and Ross reading and responding to every review and making changes based on feedback they receive.

There are no secrets to their success

Openness, with customers and staff, is very important to the DBC owners. Employees have a good idea of what’s taken every day and the margins needed to break even. They are encouraged to contribute ideas, some of which have led to additions to the menu.

Based on their experience so far, Emma and Ross’ advice to others thinking of opening a restaurant or cafe is: “Be aware of the outgoings.” It’s essential to control costs, and in particular, to understand the impact of VAT. Choosing to operate the right VAT scheme can make a significant difference.

Fun is also an essential ingredient in the DBC recipe. The joint owners want customers and staff, and themselves, to really enjoy their restaurant experience. Having fun is also a great way to learn, which Emma and Ross are doing as they educate Weymouth in the tastes and textures of good quality burgers.

Discover more about Emma and Ross' new business from their Dorset Burger Company website.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lauren’s shaping her new business with flowers

How many Dorset florists have not one but two Chelsea Flower Show medals to their name? That's what Lauren Curry of Concept Flowers, based in Christchurch, has achieved, and her career has barely got going.

Concept Flowers is a very fresh, new floristry business. Less than twelve months old, it’s run from the family home Lauren shares with her parents. Begun in September 2012, the early months have already seen lots of positive growth and there’s plenty of early promise of future success.

Floral art saves the day and paves the way

Like so many young people, Lauren wasn’t sure what direction her career would take. Careers interviews led her to start a course in floral art at Bournemouth & Poole College. Despite never having worked with flowers before, by the end of the opening session, her very first creation was top of the class.

Eight years of dedicated training followed, leading to Lauren achieving a Master’s qualification, and winning those medals at Chelsea. Her feet were firmly placed on the path to a future in floristry.

However, her achievements threatened to be more of a hindrance than a help, with established florists refusing to provide employment. After almost a decade spent learning her craft, Lauren was considered to be ‘over qualified’ by the local firms she’d hoped to work for.

This left only one option open - to starting trading in her own right. From those rejections sprang an entirely new business - Concept Flowers.

Learning the new skills needed for commerce

Becoming a business owner means further education, usually through hard commercial experience. Lauren started by approaching a bank for the capital needed to establish her operation and fund the initial marketing, which she also invested into.

Without a High Street presence, Lauren had to find other ways to get noticed, to put herself in front of potential customers. Social media played a part, as did getting involved in events. A major wedding fair in Bournemouth proved the turning point, allowing her to demonstrate her skills in front of brides searching for the perfect floral creation.

Her early work has led to recommendations and repeat business.

Lauren ascribes her success to date to her marketing efforts and believes that personal contact is the key. “A lot of the time it’s you who makes the business,” she said. Online marketing has its place, but when it comes to securing sales: “People buy from people.”

Lauren’s story is an inspiration to anyone who’s spent years honing their skills and now plans to start their own business. We’ll be checking back with her in a few months, to discover more about how Concept Flowers is blooming.

To find out more about Concept Flowers, visit the website by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cumulus reigns in Dorset’s outdoor adventure sector

Russell Thomoson - founder of Cumulus
Dorset is rich in start-ups, but very few are grounded in the depth of experience possessed by Russell Thompson, founder of Cumulus Outdoors.

Even the condensed version of Russell's CV is ruggedly impressive. Former Royal Marine, creator of team building training in some of the UK’s leading schools, trainer of mountain rescue teams and Team GB Olympic coaches, who helped Sir Ranulph Fiennes test cold weather gear in temperatures down to minus 53 degrees Celsius.

A long-term Dorset resident, Russell spotted that his skills, combined with some of the most exciting coastline in the world, could provide the basis for a successful outdoor adventure business.

He set up Cumulus in 2004 with the vision of creating an environment allowing anyone to learn about themselves, and their team, through a variety of physical and intellectual challenges. But rather than be a gruelling battle for survival, the experiences were to be enjoyed and achievements celebrated.

Climbing to a high standard from the outset

Excellence, in preparation and execution, was central to Russell’s plans. In an industry where risk is part of the product, it was important that, from the very start, only the best qualified and most experienced instructors were brought into the Cumulus team.

The result of that commitment to quality is a business that, nine years later, has trained teams from some of the UK’s leading organisations. Cumulus also works with schools, colleges, families and private groups including stag and hen parties.

The initial focus was coasteering, which is about scrambling along the base of cliffs, jumping and diving where necessary to complete a journey. The business now encompasses a much wider range of physical activities and, where appropriate, combines these with workshops and coaching.

Success demands conquering varied terrain

As with every business, Cumulus faces its challenges. While outdoor events take place all year round, demand is always highest in the warmer months. The company is continually broadening its range of activities to smooth its turnover across the seasons. In addition to coasteering its offering now includes bushcraft, team fun days, mountain biking, kayaking and even an old-fashioned school sports day experience.

Another hurdle to overcome is marketing. It’s not easy for a small business in Dorset to reach out to the corporate clients who, once they discover it, derive real benefit from the Cumulus experience. The firm has invested in its website and is looking to broaden its reach into social media.

Advice from Cumulus to anyone considering setting up a similar business is to plan for the costs associated with operating at a high standard of quality. The welfare and safety of everyone involved is of paramount importance. It’s only by taking these considerations very seriously from the start, along with the extremely clear vision and hard work by Russell Thompson and his team, that Cumulus has achieved its position as one of the leading outdoor events companies in Dorset.

To help build up from this firm foundation, Cumulus has recently taken on Peter Boyce as MD. His experience of setting up successful businesses will secure the company's position on the ascent from local to national achievement.

Find out more about Cumulus Outdoors from their website, and you can follow them on Twitter.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Has your business got what it takes to win?

“And the winner is...”

The speaker pauses, extracting the maximum anticipation from the audience of finalists. Your heart pumps, as you can’t quite believe that your firm’s name might be called.

But it is! You stride through the applause to the stage, climbing those few steps to the platform before receiving that warm handshake and the acknowledgement that your organisation has been recognised as a leader in its class.

Winning awards is good for business

However good it feels on the night, there’s more to winning a business award than a warm glow and the congratulations of your peers.

News of your success can secure free coverage in local and trade media.

Recognition of their hard work can be a valuable morale-booster to staff, pushing up productivity and loyalty.

The winner’s badge can help build credibility with customers.

These are more than enough reasons why your business should enter the 2013 Dorset Business Awards.

Get the recognition you deserve

Organised by the Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the awards celebrate the creativity, dynamism and high levels of excellence exhibited by firms across the county.

Entries for the 2013 awards are now open and more information on how to start the process can be found by clicking here.

It’s free to enter the awards and they’re open to any business based in Dorset, from the smallest to the largest.

Entries must be in by Tuesday 10 September, with the sweetener of being entered into a draw for free tickets to the awards ceremony if your submission is received by Friday 23 August.

The award categories are:
  • Apprenticeship Training Award
  • Business Engagement with the Community Award
  • Business Woman of the Year Award
  • Dorset Tourism Award
  • Entrepreneur of the Year Award
  • Hays Employee of the Year Award
  • KPMG & Lester Aldridge Company of the Year Award
  • Nuffield Health Excellence in Customer Service Award
  • Princecroft Willis Family Business Award
  • Retail Excellence Award
You can also follow the Dorset Business Awards on Twitter.