Tapside and all that!
How did we get started? What type of coffee is Esprế? (See range) How long have we been in business? What is special about our Coffee Machine Rentals? (Have a peek!) We get posed these questions and many more.
These questions arise from time to time throughout our 35 years in business as Tapside. However, I have spent 60 years altogether creating and developing other successful businesses.
With this in mind, this is some detail on how we got to where we are now that I hope you will find interesting and entertaining.
In 1980, I had recently sold a printing business that I started from scratch where, over 16 years, we successfully employed around 20 printers, finishers, artists and administrative staff. The business provided a range of printed fundraising schemes mainly for Football Clubs and other sporting organisations located throughout the country. However, my interest had always been in Ornithology, and to this end, my ambition was the creation of a Tropical Bird Garden as a visitor centre somewhere in Scotland. Unfortunately, after six months of research and planning, we were unable to find a suitable site and had to abandon the project.
During this time I met some lads from the South of England who introduced me to the idea of selling coffee. The concept was simple i.e. Buy and offer coffee brewers to pubs and bars on free loan subject to the regular purchase of coffee. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the Scottish demand for coffee within the licensed trade. Shortly after starting I discovered to my dismay that pubs in Scotland operated on a culturally different level to those country pubs in Essex and Kent. Very few people wanted coffee, and particularly when there was beer on tap as an alternative. Of course, it is different now, but in those days landlords scorned the idea of serving coffee. So I now had lots of coffee brewers that were not wanted – at least in the way that I had hoped.
Turning Failure into Success
Rebuffed by the licensed trade in Scotland was an early lesson about the importance of “Market Research” before investing.
So what now? I had lots of brewers but no takers. Well, not entirely true because we did have a few businesses who had taken units as a facility for their Staff and Visitors. This was not ideal because the volume of sales did not justify the cost of the equipment on loan. I did notice however that many more staff operated in the factory area as opposed to the Administrators in each office. With this piece of information, the opportunity then opened up to the supply of coin operated vending machines located in the workshops. Again these were on a free loan subject to a percentage of the cash box takings going to each Company.
At about this time I got information that High Schools were having trouble and losing money on their drink vending machines. When investigated, I discovered that it came about because the Schools had all signed five-year leasing contracts with the Klix Company and they were not giving the sales required to return a profit.
Upon site analysis, I discovered the reason for the problem. It was because the purchase of the drinks took place during the 10 minute morning and afternoon breaks. However, the Klix machine operated using cups with pre-filled ingredients delivered from a carousel with eight stations. When a drink was selected, the carousel would then turn around until the chosen drink was in the correct position. Then when it arrived the prefilled plastic cup would be dropped into the delivery area, and hot water added.
Because of this, each drink could take more than a minute to serve, and with only a ten-minute break the maximum number of possible sales was far below what was required to make it viable. In the meantime, the people profiting were the Klix Company and the Commission Salespeople that they employed. At this point, I determined that I would find a way to let Clients have contracts with undemanding time scales and we would not ever engage commission salespeople. Thirty years later this is still enshrined in our Company’ Policy.
The Schools eventually solved the problem by letting us supply vending machines that could deliver up to 75 drinks during each ten-minute break. The resulting extra revenue not only returned a profit for each school but it also left enough for us to buy-out the unwanted Klix machines.
We now had some Klix Machines but no economical way to get the +specific cups to use in them. During my investigation on how to solve this, I investigated the possibility of pre-filling the drinks ourselves. The drawback to this was that the available equipment 30 years ago cost £40,000 and beyond what we could afford.
Determined to solve this I approached local engineers, but they either did not have the expertise or talked “silly money” based upon experimentation and lots of trial and error.
In the event, I then used my experience gained during my R.A.F. Years as a Navigational Instrument Mechanic. I drew up plans for a more modest unit that local engineers assured me would never work. Undaunted I arranged for an Engineer friend to do the fabrication along with my I.T. savvy son to do the programming required to combine the optical sensors and pneumatic drivers to control the workflow. The machine started as soon as it was finished and worked to flawlessly produce around 2000 drinks per hour for the next twenty years. It meant that as well as solving our immediate needs we were also able to capture a share of the Klix and Maxx business who were the dominant players at the time.
This all worked very well for some years until in the 1990’s the market started to change. The change came about when Starbucks began to open U.K. Shops. It brought about a revolution in the country’s coffee drinking habits where Italian style Espresso drinks now became the fashionable option.
Moving with the times
Although Starbucks brought a welcome upgrade to the coffee Trade, it also created problems for many family businesses who were seeing their customers migrating to the new “ in thing”.
Now to me every problem is simply an opportunity in disguise. How could we fix this for the small family businesses who were now offering out of date drink choices?
New espresso equipment was expensive, and the country had just experienced the first economic downturn with Bank Loans being almost non-existent.
After some serious consideration, we created our “Open Option” contract where we waived, Credit Checking, abandoned 4 & 5-year contracts and introduced early contract opt-out after only four months, but still with an ownership option on request. The contract also included free breakdown maintenance, staff training and free telephone support. Our objective was to create an affordable system but not the worry and stress associated with the leasing deals offered by the finance companies.
We are proud that we can now look back at having helped many family businesses get into and continue with their coffee shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels. Our business now revolves around this same facility that is almost 100% available simply for the asking. We have trusted people, and they have not let us down. If you would like to know more, please call 01506 823402 – we will be delighted to help.
Along the Way
All of the above has been satisfying, exciting and also, at times, worrying. During my time in setting up Tapside I have come to realise that problems always seem to present opportunities and in solving these I have been able to penetrate markets and open up many more opportunities.
One of the other advantages of being a business owner, especially when everything is going well is the free time that becomes available to pursue other challenges.
For instance, almost as soon as I started Tapside, I wanted to have a dialogue with other local business owners but, at that time, nothing existed to make that easy so I started the Central Scotland Small Business Club. My co-creators were John Jackson (Business Consultant) and Brian Guthrie (College Lecturer). It was an almost immediate success with 60 or so members turning up at regular monthly meetings. I was nominated, President, and over a two-year period we had some excellent exchanges in local Hotels and also at Member’s Business Premises. After two years I decided to step down and make way for new blood. Unfortunately shortly after taking office, my successor experienced some business problems that meant that the club took second place and started to fail.
Fortunately, John Jackson was able to step into the breach and adopt the club into the Falkirk Business Enterprise that was a Business Advisory contract sponsored by the Falkirk Council. This went well for some years even with various management changes and alterations of venues.This all changed with financial constraints increasingly bearing down on the Council it was decided to take the Business service into the Council’s direct control. Unfortunately, this created some acrimony that led to a separate organisation being set up under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce. The people involved work hard and do a good job. The difference is that it now runs from the top down where the original club was very much from the bottom upwards, and that seems to have led to less involvement by the ordinary members.
During my time I have met and worked with some excellent people so when presented with “Best Employer Award” sponsored by the Prudential Insurance Company it meant a great deal, The people who work with me are incredible, and I value every day that I spend in their company.
Another award that surprised me at the time was the “Lifetime Business Achievement Award” sponsored by the Royal Bank, Organised by the Scotsman Newspaper Group and presented to me by the lovely Kay Adams. I had always thought that I was simply doing an ordinary day’s work so the fact that some people thought that I was doing something special was flattering and totally unexpected.
One of the awards that was very emotional and gave me a wonderful feeling of achievement was when I took part in a Pupil Mentoring Programme. I met a young bullied lad, his head was down, and he was reluctant to take part in any school activity. Upon invitation from the School, I spent a few hours each month visiting the School and chatting to him in private. After more than a year I had no idea whether we were making progress. My answer soon came however when the head teacher informed me of his appointment as the Prefect in charge of the School’s attendance roll-call. His fellow pupils voted him into the position of Prefect and the Staff his appointment as Manager.of the School’s attendance records. I felt that I had just won a Nobel Prize. He then went on to study accountancy and as far as I know he is now successfully employed as a practising accountant.
I was not sure how we had managed to do this so to satisfy my newly created interest in psychology my staff allowed me some months off to study and become qualified as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. I now practice without charge on request.
Of course, like many other Companies, we take part in School visits to speak to pupils about being in business. They also get invited to our factory to see us at our day job.
I am a firm believer that the art of communication is the most important personal skill that anyone can have. To encourage this we, as Tapside, have donated Trophies to some of the Schools for presentation to pupils who exhibit better than average communication skills in any subject of their choice.
In the spirit of “Taking my own Medicine,” I spent two years regularly attending Toastmasters to hone my presentation skills. I recommend them to everyone; they cost very little and operate locally throughout the Country.
All of these extra activities have given me a great feeling of satisfaction and helped me keep a level perception of the comparative unimportance of many daily problems. At 80 years I am looking for more problems – It helps me to get out of bed each day enthusiastically.