Henry Ford said, “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself” Something that is not obvious about what the success of a restaurant depends on is relationships or partnerships with various third parties. Having a positive and supportive relationship with stakeholders such as landlords, business partners, suppliers, banks etc. is like a marriage, there must be good communication and a give and take attitude. Each ‘partnership’ is like a cog in the wheel, a break down in any of the ‘cogs’ and the whole thing becomes a nightmare, and success does not ‘take care of itself’.
For example, when KOTTULABS first started there was a lot of misunderstanding with a certain stakeholder, despite having an official contact - simply because the partners were so green, they didn't know what they didn't know and the fact that the whole 'business' came together in a couple of months. Though a contract was signed, the stakeholder, taking advantage of how new everyone was, failed to cover in it certain things that were advantages to him and disadvantages to KOTTULABS. This made operations very difficult, but it was too late to do anything about it. One such example was when a few weeks after first opening its doors, KOTTULABS found themselves in the middle of a construction zone. They had to run their restaurant in the middle of a lot of disturbance and disruption and the customers had to actually walk through a construction zone to get to them. Not the image one wants to project. But what was to be done . It was obvious that the stakeholder failed to understand their needs, and it was basically just a financial transaction and not a partnership. This made things very difficult and not to mention unpleasant, especially for a fledgling business. Yet the guys thought it was 'better to stick with the known devil, than unknown angels' and stuck it out. They put this along with many other experiences down to a very steep learning curve. As a result, they currently have a very different agreement with this stakeholder, and everything is down in writing so there are no misunderstandings along the way. Yet, Don says, there are things that can be improved further in the relationship.
Relationships with suppliers is another very important partnership. At the beginning the suppliers had the advantage - obviously because KOTTULABS was a start up, and as far as suppliers were concerned could go belly up and disappear in a month. So extending credit lines was out of the question; after all they too had a business to run. At the beginning, Don says, certain produce suppliers even cheated them. Once again the learning was hard earned. But at the end the guys learnt how to place orders, how to receive orders, how to document orders, etc. Where getting credit was concerned it all depended on building credibility and a relationship with the suppliers, which after three years in the business has taken place. Suppliers now arrive at the doors of KOTTULABS to make deliveries, instead of one of the four partners having to go produce shopping 4 or 5 hours before the restaurant opened, for the ingredients they would need that day.
Larger suppliers like beverage companies who usually give out branded refrigerators and coolers, refused to do so for KOTTULABS initially, says Don with a grin. He uses this as an example to explain just how clueless they were at the beginning, and how easy they thought this was all going to be. He says, that now he understands that to the beverage companies, KOTTULABS was an unknown entity, run by 4 people that were virtually unknown in the restaurant industry. So obviously how were they to be trusted. Yet with time and running the business with integrity the relationships with large and small suppliers have developed well. Now, Don says, large well-known companies want to work in collaboration with KOTTULABS. An example of this is Red Bull, Coca Cola and even Elephant Ginger Beer.
Another very important relationship that needs to be maintained is with delivery partners. At the beginnings when various delivery services first started out in Sri Lanka it was wonderful from a customer point of view, as it made ordering and getting food delivered to ones door-step very simple and easy. But it was quite different for the restaurant owner as the charges of these delivery companies are quite steep, and ate into an already slim revenue, out of which all other over heads had to be covered too. Yet, KOTTULABS couldn't ignore the delivery services and not use them as that would mean a loss of customers and a drop in orders, as competitors were using these delivery services.
Don says, they had such a hard time learning about all the dos and don'ts of the industry. From regulations to food safety procedures etc. There is absolutely no education and information available to entrepreneurs starting out in this industry and yet, health inspections are done and restaurants are shut down regularly. The news of one very popular food outlet being shut down by the PHI office sent shivers down the spines of the KOTTULABS partners. This spurred them on to finding out all the rules and regulations they needed to know to run a restaurant to code. This 'finding out' couldn’t be done through official channels; as it should have been, but by phoning a relative of one of the partners who was also in the food business and asking them for information on food safety and regulations. This spurred them on to working with a consultancy firm that eventually lead KOTTULABS to become the first restaurant to work towards gaining the HACCP certification. Other stakeholders that many people don't even think about or associate with a successful restaurant operation are the Grama Seveka, local police, garbage collection, pest control etc. The guys at KOTTULABS were no different; they too didn't realise that all these external parties played an important role from time to time in the success of their restaurant.
Don says, through all the ups and downs with various stakeholders there are also a couple of suppliers that they have had a very positive relationship with from day one and are yet working with. These partners have been supportive and understanding of a new business. 'They have not tried to take advantage of our ignorance and cheat us' says Don. Instead the suppliers have provided competitive pricing, on time delivery and excellent service. In other words, ingredients for a perfect union.
Written by Shali Jayasuriya
Shali is a freelance writer and blogger. She has written articles for clients from various fields, as well as developing content for websites and social media as well as copy writing for press releases, collateral and internal marketing. She has extensive marketing experience and has worked in various industries including aviation and hospitality, education and e-commerce. Read her blog at http://wellwornhushpupps.com/