Lessons From a Takeaway Venture

Dave Key, First Data, reflects on a former family catering business and offers advice to others in the space

Walking around the Takeaway Innovation Expo - a huge trade fair dedicated to new developments in the space - I was taken back to the launch of a family venture, Something Nice and Tasty, which my brother set up back in 2005.

The concept involved delivering good quality wholesome food straight to people's doors. The food tasted good and was expertly packed and we even won a number of regional awards, but sadly after just 18 months the business failed.

Having had the chance to speak to a number of small business owners in the takeaway and fast food space at the Expo, I passed on some of my own experience in a bid to prevent them from making the same mistakes I did.

Looking back, there were some key reasons the business wasn't a success. A major issue was reaching our customer base. We printed tens of thousands of leaflets to put though people's doors, but had no way of tracking how many people this actually brought in. We wanted to reward our most loyal customers and encourage repeat business, but had also no record of who these were. We ultimately found ourselves offering endless discounts and deals, which is a slippery slope once you get into it.

As with any business, we were looking to scale the company and turn a good profit – but this is where the real problems started to kick in. With a miniscule customer base, we were able to offer premium quality, ensure the service was top of the range and keep our few customers happy. The more we grew, the harder it became to keep control of business processes, such as managing increasing numbers of delivery drivers. As such, the service and quality began to fall. We soon learnt that the customers who complain are not the problem, it’s the customers who say nothing but silently stop returning that make or break a business.

There are a number of things that we would do differently, given our time as a small business owners again and there are also a number of tools and technologies available in 2014 that were simply not around back in 2005. Today, small business owners have the benefit of the smartphone revolution. With many customers making orders through their mobile devices, this creates a fantastic opportunity to keep track of orders and offer customised offers to the most loyal customers through their phones.

It’s also possible to alleviate a lot of the stress of business processes by letting supportive technologies carry the burden. Chores such as managing employees, keeping track of stock and taking care of finances no longer need to be laborious manual processes, with the help of technology platforms like Clover Station. If we had been able to spend less time stressing over behind the scenes admin tasks, and more time looking after customers and maintaining the same high level quality of the product, Something Nice and Tasty may have had a real shot at success.