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ALREADY making waves in Melbourne’s competitive restaurant industry, Carlos Swinton-Lee is even better placed to succeed as a hospitality consultant and restaurant owner thanks to the Small Business Mentoring Service.
Carlos was an experienced London hospitality expert before moving here in 2010 with his Australian wife to start a new life and new business interests.
After a long stint with Scottish & Newcastle, Carlos was General Manager for the iconic Rock Garden restaurant and nightclub. He became Group Operations Manager in 2002 before moving to the UK’s largest pub and restaurant company, the Spirit Group, as a Business Development Manager in 2004.
At the Spirit Group he headed a division of 15 restaurants with an annual turnover equal to $30 million. In 2006 Carlos became Operations Director of CG Restaurants, where he ran most aspects of the business and helped grow the company, rolling out a successful gourmet pizza brand.
After moving to Australia, Carlos started Bar & Restaurant Consultants in 2011. A qualified business and workplace coach, he works with experienced food and beverage consultant Anthony Morrison, and award-winning consultant and trainer Jo Duffield.
BR Consultants works with small and medium enterprises locally and interstate on their sales, profit, operations, human resources, marketing, strategy and business planning. They also work up new concepts and perform restaurant re-brands to help failing restaurants turn around.
“It’s where my experience lies,” Carlos says. “It’s also where I saw a gap in the market; so many hospitality businesses fail in Australia.”
Carlos had plenty of industry experience but wanted to cover all possible bases. “I left a large team in the UK and felt I needed a resource to share ideas – a sounding board,” he says.
After hearing about SBMS through Small Business Victoria, Carlos was matched with mentor Bruce Abbott, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the steel, manufacturing and distribution industries.
After starting as a metallurgist with Comsteel, Bruce became marketing manager and moved to BHP, where he rose to Group Manager Marketing. He then spent 15 years in executive recruitment with Boyden Melbourne.
The SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
Carlos had three sessions with Bruce over a number of months and mentoring is continuing. Bruce helped with business and marketing planning, market segments, pricing, evaluating business options, valuations and remuneration structures, business structures and financing.
They also discussed Carlos’s new restaurant, Meatballs & Sons, which is due to open in February 2014, and plans to develop retail food products.
“Carlos is very busy in his consulting and training business, to the extent that he may need to employ another person,” Bruce says. “With some mentoring assistance, Carlos has developed his consulting business and is about to commence his initial restaurant.
“The latter will also be developed as a franchisor. Amongst other areas, he has been able to discuss with me opportunities and potential pitfalls, marketing, staffing and remuneration options.”
In the past year since mentoring began, enquiries and new customers have increased by 200 per cent, profits by 150 per cent and sales by 100 per cent. Carlos has introduced a business partner and sold shares.
Job roles are also better defined and tasks conducted more cleanly. The business is more streamlined and well placed to take on its next challenge.
Carlos says he is now more pragmatic in his thought processes, priorities and communication. “We have a better balance of work across the business, getting people to deliver on their tasks,” he says. “Business has grown considerably.”
Bruce and Carlos are both now confident BR Consultants will continue to grow, due partly to Carlos’s experience, drive and innovative ideas. The restaurant is also well placed to make an impact.
“Our value is ‘safe hands in hospitality’,” Carlos says. “We are thorough and we take ownership over our projects.
Carlos is extremely grateful to Bruce for his help.
“Bruce has been instrumental in achieving a level of clarity across various pieces in both businesses,” he says. “SBMS has been a big help and a reliable sounding board. Bruce`s insight and experience has allowed our business to focus on what is important and we will be forever grateful.”
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