Manar Al Jayouchi and Suzi Croft, Co-founders of 1762, are at the helm of one of the region’s most successful F&B brands. In conversation with SME Advisor, they explain what they are doing to gain a competitive edge and open up about their plans for the future…
From idea to action
Manar Al Jayouchi and Suzi Croft, Co-founders of 1762 (part of the Appetite Group), want to make healthy eating in the region as easy as possible. With the ambition to enable easier access to honest and quick food, they decided to create Appetite. A home-grown concept, the rustic/industrial shop boasts a variety of nutritious meals. Be it morning coffee or lunchtime snack, Appetite caters to every meal of the day. Priding itself on its commitment to honest and preservative-free food, it has ensured that its meal items are of interest to every type of audience. “There was a gap in the market for quality, wholesome products for busy people who are constantly on-the-go. Moreover, we believed that the Middle Eastern market was quite attractive – it was a great market to be in. The middle class population was growing which meant the need for quality products and better services was continually on the rise. We saw the opportunity and decided to take advantage of it,” quip the dynamic duo.
Confident about their idea, they decided it was worth betting their savings on it. Of course, having an idea is one thing, but it is the implementation of the idea that is crucial. And, no idea can be executed without the right financial funds. “We decided to invest whatever savings we had along with the support of our friend Nabil, who was a catalyst of this project. The entire process from the idea stage to inception to actually selling took almost a year. We started the business with AED 280,000 to be precise, along with a small kitchen and two staff members,” Manar says with a smile. “Looking back to that day, it feels remarkable how quickly we’ve turned things around.”
And, its remarkable indeed. Manar and Suzi’s business has undergone rapid expansion since inception. In the first five years, the business has quadrupled in size and has expanded from Dubai to other Emirates. The company has a team of 210 employees with plans for further growth in the near future. I think our biggest milestone has been our shift from being a manufacturer to being a manufacturer with our own retail operations, adds Suzi.
Overcoming the challenges with bite-sized solutions
The biggest challenge for the F&B entrepreneurs has been finding the right people to manage its high volume of orders efficiently, while maintaining consistent taste, service and quality. We believe that any team is as strong as its weakest link and we only got better when we had the right people in the right places. At the end of the day, who you surround yourself with makes all the difference. So, the biggest challenge for us is the recruitment of the right people and retaining strong and effective team members.
Searching for skilled talent in a tight market is proving to be difficult. But, Manar and Suzi are determined and fully committed to hiring only the best.
We’ve reached the conclusion that you have to invest in the right team and we have directed a big chunk of our returns into hiring the best team possible to cover the ever-expanding part of the business. We also understand that hiring is a two-way street; in order to work with skilled staff, it is important to establish quality processes and integrate the latest technology. Technology is the core of any business today; it’s making everything more accessible. Data analysis is important to understand our business, and with new software, it helps our operations on the daily. More streamlined operations create a positive working environment – not just for the management, but the employees as well, they explain.
Their strategy to combat this challenge has been straightforward. We take time out to sit down with our recruitment partners and talk to them about our company culture and long-term goals. If they aren’t educated about the business, how can we expect them to find the right candidates? You’ll be surprised to find out what a great impact this has on the results!
Another area that the dynamic duo has been increasingly looking at has been creating a niche for themselves in an already crowded market. Until a few years ago, price was the determinant factor in terms of business survival. You would have to be cheap in order to stay in business (especially within the F&B industry). More recently, however, the focus has been on quality and innovation which is the sign of a maturing market. What personally works for us is scoring our business on a quantitative and qualitative matrix. We, as founders, still believe that our recipe for success depends firmly on meeting the highest score within the following key points: quality and consistent products; value for money (expensive or cheap is not important as long as you deliver the value); quality service; and keeping up with new trends.
Recipe for the future
Speaking of their growth plans, Manar and Suzi say: Currently, we are looking to focus on retail expansion and build up for better processes (plans) for profit centres. For the next two years, we will focus on retail. We just launched Appetite the Shop a little?over a year ago so we want to cement our presence on this platform. Finally, providing a more competitive service is what we will continue to focus on in the coming year.
Do they have plans for regional and international expansion? Yes we do. We are currently working on building our franchise as well as fuelling expansion. There has been a lot of interest across the GCC and Europe. There are still a lot of new markets we need to enter. There’s still a lot of work to be done.