We spoke to Gareth Dyer, joint owner of Rococo Coffee House in Liverpool to find out.
Based on Liverpool’s Lord Street in a historic building dating back to 1860, Rococo was established in 2008. Today it has grown from its original one room and 30 seats, establishing itself as arguably Liverpool’s largest coffee house, with four rooms, a second location nearby, and 40 staff overall.
Gareth explained: “Paul, the MD, was thinking about opening a coffee shop and I was a business manager at a fast food chain at the time. We’ve been friends since we were 18 and he asked me if I wanted to come on board and manage it. I thought ‘Why not?’, and we’ve never looked back.”
The early years were tough, not least because Rococo is in an upstairs location, accessed by a staircase, and has no ground floor shopfront on the high street.
“It was just sheer hard work,” Gareth said. “We had a break-even point when we started out and we were nowhere near that. But we got there – it took four years really, and a lot of hard work before we could say “It’s going to be OK!”
According to Gareth, the shop’s location played a key role in shaping their approach to customer service, with an emphasis on delivering outstanding experiences for everyone walking through the door.
“Obviously we have just got a small doorway so people don’t see it easily. That doesn’t really promote a lot of passing trade, though we do get some,” he said. “That just means that when we do get customers in we have to give them the best experience possible, to get them coming back and telling other people about us; how fantastic it is.”
As part of that, the owners and staff have worked hard to create an outstanding environment for customers and offer a personal service where possible.
“Look around you,” Gareth said. “We’ve got nice comfy seats, a nice environment. The biggest hurdle is getting them to come up the stairs. Even now people are amazed when they come in for the first time, because of the way it looks and how big it is; the décor, the open fire and so on.
“But it’s more than that. We try to ensure everyone gets a happy friendly welcome, and I think you need to give everyone a personal touch too. We have a lot of regulars, and it’s nice to walk around and have a chat, make them feel part of the place, ask them about themselves, their day, how they are.”
Looking to the future, Gareth is focused on making sure standards never slip, even as the business grows.
“Keep doing it,” he explained. “Keep growing sales as much as we can and keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve been the number one coffee house on TripAdvisor in Liverpool for over two years and we mustn’t lose sight of what got us there – the customer experience.”
He is understandably proud of the business he and his partners have created: “When we started there were just five of us, now there’s 40, so we’re proud to have created all those jobs out of nothing, and want to create more. It’s hard work, but it’s going well. It’s definitely worthwhile.”
As an experienced business manager, Gareth is also acutely aware of the risks facing the business, especially given the high footfall it attracts.
“There are so many risks to be aware of, slips, trip, burns, allergies, and so on. That’s why insurance is so important. It gives us the peace of mind that comes with protection against the unexpected and allows us to get on with making sure every customer leaves happy.”
Gareth’s advice for anyone thinking about starting out on the high street is born of his own experiences at Rococo.
“Be prepared for hard work, for adversity,” he cautions. “If you have a figure you’re thinking of for your seed capital, double it because it really is hard work, lots of hours. But once you have customers in, treat them like royalty because without them, you’re nothing.
‘That’s what we tell our staff. We don’t pay your wages, the people walking in the door as customers do. The customer is king.”
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