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 Mentor brings tools, experience and empathy

 

 When Roy Lailvaux started mentoring Bajith and Joshna Panday he immediately recognised the enormous stress they were under.

The couple, who are in their fifties, had put nearly everything they had into a new Col’cacchio franchise branch in the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. Through no fault of their own, the start-up costs of their dream restaurant had overshot their budget by more than a million rand, and they found themselves in deep trouble.

Roy’s familiarity with the situation stemmed from the fact that he had been in a similar situation more than once in the last two decades - a huge amount invested in a new restaurant, but all his plans and projections thrown out of whack by unforeseen circumstances.

Fortunately, Roy has developed the tools to dig a business out of such a hole, and that is why he was asked by Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) to mentor the Pandays couple and help guide them out of the rough.

Roy says he thinks Bajith and Joshna must have seen the empathy which he felt for them because they soon established a good rapport and a relationship of trust - the essential foundation upon which a mentoring relationship is built.

This allowed him to waste no time in implementing the diagnostic tool which he had developed to audit the health of any restaurant.

Was there full commitment and involvement on the part of the entrepreneurs in the venture? Most definitely, says Roy. They had invested virtually everything they had in the restaurant, and were clearly passionate about making it succeed.

Was there anything that could be fixed on the operational side of the restaurant? On the contrary, Roy was impressed by the structure and the discipline of the Pandays’ operation. Using the crucial food-cost ratio of their sales, he found that there was very little to tweak on the operational side of things. Clearly, the years they had spent in the fast-food industry had prepared them well for the operations of a sit-down restaurant.

Next, Roy’s attention shifted to the fixed costs and financial structure of the business, and he was able to confirm that the overruns on the set-up costs was costing the business some R40 000 per month in unforeseen expenses. Furthermore, the overruns delayed the planned November launch of the business and pushed it out to February, which together with August is usually the worst month for a restaurant.

The result was that the turnover was way too low to cover the expenses.

Because Bajith had already made some progress with crisis negotiations with the franchisor, the landlord and BUSINESS/PARTNERS - who had financed the deal- for some leeway in order to pull the restaurant through, Roy and the Pandays focussed on marketing efforts to push the turnover up.

All of Roy’s years in the restaurant industry meant that he was by no means short on ideas. Among the short-term measures he proposed for immediate implementation was to get a regular quiz evening going in the restaurant. Roy suggested hiring an outfit of professional quiz masters who bring their own following to the restaurant.

Similarly, a professional outfit that do whiskey tasting evenings was contacted.

Next, Roy suggested an outreach to the local retirement institutions to promote a regular pensioner’s evening, and to local business associations for the hosting of seminars, workshops and meetings of their members.

For a slightly more medium-term promotion, they hatched a plan to reach out to local schools to host fun educational sessions for learners as part of their business and management sciences curriculum. Inevitably, many children will be suggesting Col’cacchio for their next family outing.

Part of the outside section of the restaurant is underneath a set of stairs, the downside of which is that it diminishes the visibility of the restaurant, but they turned it into a positive feature by using it as a prop for the screen during presentations.

Apart from these “traditional” ways of boosting a restaurant’s turnover, Roy is also helping Bajith and Joshna to negotiate a bit more freedom with the franchisor over a social-media outreach for their branch.

As part of their long-term plan, Roy is helping them set up a database to capture the details of as many of their customers as possible for future outreach and marketing drives.

Roy says he himself learns something new with every business that he mentors, which he finds improves his own entrepreneurial skills. In the case of the Pandays, he learnt a lot about how they work together as a husband-and-wife team, integrating their family life with their restaurant which is going to require many long hours in the foreseeable future.

Roy is a rare mentor in the sense that he is still an active entrepreneur himself. Usually, those who have enough time and expertise to be successful mentors are retired business people, but Roy currently owns two outlets of the Johannesburg-based Portuguese pub franchise Cesco’s, and is planning on opening a third.

Roy says it is his mentorship approach which allows him to run three restaurants, actively mentor four other businesses and spend every Thursday at the BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ Entrepreneurial Growth Centre fielding calls from other business owners.

It is all about empowering individuals, he says. In every restaurant that he starts, he empowers a manager to run the restaurant so that his own involvement is virtually that of a mentor.

In his newest restaurant, a 300-seater Cesco’s that will be opening soon, his managing partner is a former waiter who started at one of his restaurants more than ten years ago. To see someone develop like that into a fully empowered business owner is what gives Roy the most satisfaction in his work.

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