How A Leicester Coffee Shop Chain is Disrupting Coffee Shop Culture and Contributing to the Renaissance of the High Street in Leicester & Beyond
Business owners have been stretched to their limits during the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact on the hospitality industry has been particularly devastating. With many hospitality businesses forced to shut their doors, furlough staff and work within strict regulations and restrictions, many have closed permanently or have been left significantly more vulnerable, with massive reductions in income. A report earlier this year suggested that nearly £2billion had been wiped off the UK coffee shop market value – down 39% from the previous year. Recovery is predicted to take 3 years, with the market projected to recover to pre-covid-19 levels by 2024.
However, one Leicester coffee chain has bucked the trend, excelling in these uncertain times, and has continued to expand and invest in their business despite the huge levels of unpredictability that the pandemic presented. Just over one month on from 19th July, or ‘Freedom Day’ as it may be better known, Bru Coffee and Gelato, based on Granby Street, is reaping the rewards of the determination that they have shown over the last 18 months and their ability to adapt the way that they work since being plunged into the Covid world.
So what did they do? Junaid Makda, Managing Director at Bru, explains how being bold and making difficult, and sometimes scary, decisions has put them ahead of the competition:
“We had big ambitions for the expansion of Bru and we decided early on to remain committed to driving forward with our plans. We completely refurbished two of our stores (Leicester and Walthamstow) and we also bought forward maintenance work at our other stores to utilise the downtime – turning the challenge into an opportunity. The experiential element is important to Bru and customers are loving the newly refurbished stores. There is a real buzz around Bru on Granby Street and I think this will only increase as more and more people start coming back into the city centre.
”In addition, we invested in our head office team to better support our stores through the challenging times. We also invested heavily into product development, technology and packaging tailored towards the changing consumer habits and trends. This allowed us to adapt our stores to offer a delivery and take away service rather than just eating or drinking in. This service remains a strong income stream for the business.”
As well as making improvements and streamlining operations at their Leicester store, Bru has national ambitions. Since opening the first Bru Coffee & Gelato in Leicester in 2014, they have proved themselves a market disruptor that is revolutionising coffee shop culture. They now have six stores across the UK and have bold ambitions to rapidly increase their franchises over the next few years. The group even opened two new stores during the pandemic, something Junaid appreciates was a huge risk at the time:
“People asked me – are you mad? And I responded, well yes – I suppose we are! But actually, it was the absolute right decision for Bru. Our store at Canada Water, London opened in August 2020 and Bru Reading opened in December. Both stores are doing really well and are proving that sometimes in business you have to take the risks to reap the rewards.”
“If you look back seven years to when we opened our Leicester store, Granby Street was full of closed, or closing shops. It is now a popular destination for cafes and restaurants and has a real European street café culture. We like to think that we have contributed to this. But if we hadn’t looked past the negatives and driven forward with our venture then we wouldn’t be where we are today. We now want to replicate this success across the UK and we didn’t want the pandemic to stop us from moving forward and expanding our business.
So what does the future hold for the Leicester coffee chain and what trends are they starting to see?
“We’re feeling really positive about the future and others are clearly seeing the potential of Bru too, with enquiries for franchise opportunities at an all time high” says Junaid.
“Our team has been incredible and they have returned more resilient, more motivated, with increased morale and excitement to be back in some form of normality.
“Since 19th July we have seen some changes but there is a lot that has also stayed the same because we have found that it is working well for us. We’ve kept the screens and sanitisers for now but will continue to review their use based on feedback from customers, staff and advice from government. I think sanitiser will be here to stay – it has become such a normal way of life, it’s easy to do and doesn’t really have any impact on people’s social experiences.
“We’ve given staff the option as to whether they would like to continue to wear their masks. Some have but some have chosen not too as it can present difficulty when communicating with customers – particularly customers who need to lip-read.
“One of the things that we have noticed is that there has been a massive increase in customers visiting as groups or families from across multiple households. People are enjoying the return to normality and are choosing to socialise in larger numbers.
“There have also been differences across the different outlets – our store in Cardiff in particular has specific challenges to face as the regulations are different in Wales but they also are responding well. Having stores across the UK gives us a much greater level and understanding of market intelligence. The more we grow, the stronger we seem to become. Time will tell what the future holds but if we can come through the past eighteen months in a stronger position then I think we can get through anything.”