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A taste of success
Warrnambool’s popular Brightbird Espresso café hopes to tempt locals with its house-baked ciabatta and vanilla custard doughnuts for a while yet, thanks in part to the Small Business Mentoring Service.
Owners Katrina and Mark Brightwell have spent several years building up the business, which also has house made bagels and sourdough baguettes and serves such delights as Portugese custard tarts courtesy of chef Jimmi Buscombe.
Mark, who was born in England, has worked extensively in hospitality, while Katrina’s background is in disability and social work with some hospitality on the side. Mark, who is also a trained chef, makes a mean coffee and organises the front of house activities
“He had always managed and worked in restaurants, bars and cafes,” says Katrina, who takes care of things behind the scenes.
The couple met in Thailand while travelling, then moved to Melbourne before returning to Warrnambool, where Katrina grew up, to start their family. They have three young children.
Mark and Katrina opened Brightbird Espresso with another couple in late 2011, then bought them out in 2013. The business did well from the start, focussing on quality ingredients and innovative dishes increasingly found in regional Victorian eateries. Its coffee is also top notch, thanks to Mark’s experience and attention to detail.
After taking over the business in 2013, Mark and Katrina felt they needed some help to ensure that they were doing the right thing and were equipped to cope with the added responsibility. They had a good book keeper and a great product, but did not want to take any chances.
During a Warrnambool City Council small business festival, Mark and Katrina discovered the SBMS and had a free 60 minute session with Geelong-based mentor Martin Shirley, who had travelled to the festival with a mobile SBMS van.
They found it most helpful so booked a further four sessions under the SBMS core program. Martin travelled to Warrnambool, so he was able to experience Brightbird Espresso and offer first hand observations as well as general business advice.
Martin has more than 40 years’ experience in the transport, logistics and freight forwarding industries and is skilled in sales, marketing and general management. His company, Martin Shirley & Associates, was purchased by corporate Giant Patrick Corporation.
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.
Martin helped with basic issues such as getting the correct advice from an accountant and understanding cash flow and day to day profitability. They also discussed:
- Strategic direction and business planning.
- Team building with staff
- Marketing and promotion
- How to be unique and stay ahead of competitors to gain a loyal following
- Seeing the benefits of publicity and cost-effective marketing.
- Understanding the need to spend more time away from the business on strategic planning
The sessions reinforced what the business was doing well and identified where it could improve.
Martin says Katrina and Mark, who have three young children, were able to consolidate and plan for the future, while achieving a better work-life balance. “Katrina and Mark are now able to spend a little more time with their family and are looking at their lifestyle choices,” Martin says.
“From worries about staff they now have a dedicated team supporting them. Turnover and profitability has increased to enable them to look at other ventures utilising a well-recognised brand.”
Martin says Mark and Katrina now have a greater understanding of cash flow, profitability and the need for their business to be ahead of its competitors by providing something they didn’t. They are also now looking at long term planning and not just day to day activities.
Brightbird Espresso has always done well and sales have steadily increase since it opened, so Martin’s help was more about consolidating, continuing what was working and future improvements.
Katrina says Martin reassured them that much of what they had done was good. But he also helped in areas they were not so confident about, like how to move forward as the sole owners.
“He helped us to … consolidate things a bit more,” she says. “We had to be mindful of being able to step back a bit … and having more of a professional relationship with our staff. We talked about the importance of scheduling meetings. He also helped to formalise our roles within the business.
“We just feel a little bit more in control of what we were doing. That really helps your confidence.”
Katrina says they also decided not to open on Sundays or public holidays to guarantee family time.
Brightbird was a long-term dream that appears to be coming true for Mark and Katrina, born partly of necessity when they decided to raise their family in Warrnambool. “We had to create a job for ourselves,” Katrina says. “It was a bit unknown about how it was going to go.”
The café quickly established itself as Warrnambool’s place to be for quality coffee and home-made, delicious lunches and baked treats. Katrina says it is among a growing number of businesses spicing up regional Victoria as people return to the country or opted for a tree change.
“There’s a real resurgence at the moment of young families … returning to their country towns and setting up things like they’ve experienced in Melbourne,” she says.
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