Ed Brown, Co-Founder, Friska

Moon Executive Search are avid supporters of home-grown talent and we have reached out to some of the South West’s iconic brands to find out more about the story behind their success.

Natasha Volkk, Executive Search Consultant at Moon Executive Search said, I’ve been a fan of Friska ever since they opened on Victoria Street. (And, yes, I can often be found at their Glass Wharf site trying to summon up the will power to order a healthy smoothie rather than indulge in a cake), so I jumped at the opportunity when Ed Brown, Co-founder of Friska offered to share their story with me.

We talked about the vision behind the brand, their incredible journey from the first site opening on Victoria Street to their latest offering in Queens Square, some of the challenges they’ve faced on route, and what’s next for Friska.

So over to you Ed….

Vision

The original idea for Friska came from my fellow co-founder Griff (Holland). The story is that he was on a family holiday in California some years ago and they kept going back to the same place – it wasn’t quite a café and it wasn’t quite a restaurant, but they served great quick healthy food and had amazing hospitality. That planted a seed for Griff, he wanted to create a similar venue.

Griff and I met at a networking event. We didn’t know each other, but it turned out that we’d both studied economics at Bath University at the same time. Griff shared the business plan for Friska with me and seeing the potential synergies between our characters we decided to go into business.

Griffs’ original concept is embedded in our DNA, Friska operates like a quick service restaurant but looks and feels like a café. At the same time we didn’t want to just be a functional place we wanted people to feel great when they came to us. Our strap line is “feel good food” which is about having the right provenance of ingredients, providing healthy options and offering great customer service.

When it came to opening the first site, we decided to focus on the professional services demographic and we needed to find a site that would give us the best chance of doing that. We chose Victoria Street for several reasons, there is a high concentration of professional service firms in the area, the recession was biting so there where opportunities for smaller companies to get into big high profile buildings and Cubex Land (The Paragon’s developers) where willing to take a gamble and give us the opportunity.

Building the brand

Building the brand and building the business have been interlinked, and while the strength and size of our brand is partly driven by social media it’s still mostly driven by opening new sites and that physical interaction with our brand.  

We’ve acquired new sites by taking the opportunities that people have presented to us because they liked what we were doing at Victoria street and wanted to feature a Friska as part of their building/offer.

We’ve built the brand by building on our provenance of ethical sourcing, making people feel good, and providing excellent hospitality, and ensuring that these values are embedded across all our sites.

We also want our team to embody our brand because if you go to a place and the services isn’t great then that reflects badly on the brand. We hire people who understand the brand and care about our DNA as that comes across in the service they to deliver to our customers.

Focusing on hiring people who are a great fit for your brand is as important as making sure that their hard skills match the job specification. Your team are your biggest advocates, and if they work for a company that they believe in, that also rewards and celebrates their achievements, then this can have a positive impact of loyalty, attraction and retention, explains Natasha. Your staff’s positive perception will filter out into the market and the company becomes a sought-after employer.   

Challenges

One of the challenges is building your band in a new market and communicating what you do and who you are to your customers and employees. For example, when we opened in Manchester, we were an unknown. Not only did the customers not know what we were about and why we were different from our competitors, but it also meant we had challenges on the recruitment side.  We had to teach our team about our vision because they didn’t have a local reference point.

As we’ve opened more sites – both in Bristol and Manchester - this has become less of an issue as the brand proceeds us and people already know what to expect from Friska.

Other challenges have been around some of the difficult decision we’ve had to make as a business. We operate in the grab and go sector which produces waste and while we always try to do the right thing which has the least impact, sometimes those decisions are viewed differently from the outside.

For example, we have disposable cutlery and packaging, but we don’t use bioplastics. The reason behind this which is because the recycling industry is not geared up to recycle bioplastics on a large scale and mixing the two can contaminate the recycling process, which has been hard to communicate externally.  

Café culture

The growth of the café culture and the flexible working spaces which this provides is a positive trend which has developed over the last ten years. People want to be able to work more flexibly and can benefit, our own team included, from being in a different and more creative environment than you might get in an office.

Flexible working has impacted our growth. We’ve seen a rise in the number of people using our sites for informal meetings and to work out of if they need a change of scenery. It increases usage during what has traditionally been our quieter period and that gives the place a real buzz through the day - people exchanging ideas, getting excited about a new business proposition, it’s great. However, at the same time we want people to respect the space especially during peak times when the customer turnaround needs to be relatively quick.

The trend for flexible working has grown rapidly as employers have started to recognise that the traditional 9.00-17.00 sat at your desk culture doesn’t necessarily deliver the best results from your employees, comments Natasha. In addition, more employees expect an element of flexible working to be standard rather than the exception and this is something which employers need to be mindful of, and build into their recruitment proposition, in order to attract top talent.  

Looking back

When we first started the business, we didn’t do ourselves justice in the coffee category as we hadn’t understood the importance of this element. If we’d started out by offering artisan coffee, like we do now, we could have ensured our coffee offer would have supported our brand as the food offering did. We would have achieved higher revenues and built up our customer base faster as we find that coffee is a good entry point - if people like the coffee and they’ll come back for more.

 

When we opened on Queens Road (we have since moved this site to Park St), we considered an all-day offering which included opening in the evening, but this didn’t work because that’s not how we’re perceive by our customers. We were trying to do something which didn’t come naturally to us.  It’s good to be open and flexible but it’s also important to focus on your core proposition and be ruthless about not being distracted from this.

What’s next

We’ve always wanted to be a national chain and that is still the vision. Following an angel investment round, we were successful in securing VC investment from YFM Equity Partners which will enable us to realise this vision and open two to three cluster sites a year in cosmopolitan cites, replicating what we’ve done in Bristol and Manchester.

Friska’s growth story will be around opening more sites in great locations in great cities, and as we do that, we need to be the best brand we can be, try push things on in various areas and, become a leader in our sector.

Over the last ten years Friska’s success has been underpinned by staying true to their core brand and growing organically, and I’m looking forward to the next wave of expansion as the brand continues to thrive and be introduced into new cities, comments Natasha.

What I also found interesting from my conversation with Ed was the parallels with development of our own brand. We are going to be celebrating Moon Executive Search’s 20th Birthday next year, and our brand still has the same core principles of respect, support and professional advice which underpinned the company when it was first created. These principles are reflected in everything we do, the services we provide to our clients and candidates alike, and in our culture. And, like Friska, we will continue to ensure that our brand embodies these principles as we head towards our next milestones – 40 years, 60 years, 80 years!!

Executive Search is at the core of what we do, and we have a wealth of experience supporting equity backed businesses who are entering their next phase of growth. We have an established network of chairs and non-executive directors who bring sector expertise, market knowledge and an established reputation in the city. We also specialise in sourcing candidates for new roles such as Head of Marketing, Head of Sales, Commercial Director etc which may be essential for the next phase of growth.

If you would like to discuss your business plans in confidence please contact Natasha Volkk on +44(0) 1275 371 200 or natashavolkk@moonexecsearch.com