Business Profiles

by Cobb & Co.

last updated 18/09/2017

Cobb & Co.
beyond the RED DOORS

by Cobb & Co.

last updated 18/09/2017

Cobb & Co. applies the latest systems to make new restaurants highly profitable

Ben and Sue Gower never actually intended to be franchisors. Back at the start of the GFC, the couple owned a vacant building in The Strand in Tauranga. With tenants few and far between, they thought they’d buy a Cobb & Co. franchise, get it up and running and then on-sell the business, giving them a nice, solid brand as a tenant. 

But that’s not what happened. Their Cobb & Co. was successful all right – too successful to sell, in fact. People poured through the doors, delighted to see an old favourite back in town, but the rest of the franchise wasn’t doing so well and the old-fashioned systems couldn’t cope. 

‘Hospitality’s default answer to almost every problem is simply to add another person,’ explains Alex Gower, Ben & Sue’s son. ‘But this is a band-aid solution: it puts reliance on staff structures which are really susceptible to disruption and loss of key players. The only real solution to guard against disruption and protect your profit is to develop intuitive, robust systems that people can learn easily, so that’s what we started doing.’ The results were so impressive that in 2013 the Gowers became the Cobb & Co. franchisors. 

Tauranga proved the eternal popularity of one of New Zealand’s best-known brands, so they invested heavily, opening new-format restaurants in Rotorua and Taupo and buying the existing outlets in New Plymouth and Whakatane. With franchises in Levin and Invercargill, and a brand new outlet opening in Dunedin shortly, Cobb & Co. is making a comeback. 

bringing people together

Cobb & Co. strikes a nostalgic chord with many New Zealanders. ‘Everyone who grew up here remembers the red doors and the traffic light drinks,’ says Nathan Bonney, the company’s COO. ‘But Cobb & Co. has broad appeal to all New Zealanders because it’s comfortable, familiar and non-challenging. There’s a huge space in the market for a family restaurant in New Zealand and, with a menu that appeals across three generations, it’s a place that brings people together. Yet because we have separate areas, it’s not just for families – you can sit in one part of the restaurant and not even be aware there are kids in another part.’ 

One of the most experienced executives in the hospitality industry, Nathan knows that there’s more to building a successful franchise than popularity. ‘To grow a strong national brand that is profitable at a restaurant level takes constant development, constant innovation and constant management. That’s where Alex comes in.’ 

systems maximise returns

A qualified lawyer and accountant by trade, Alex cheerfully admits he was lured out of KPMG and back into the family business by the potential of Cobb & Co. ‘I had worked at Tauranga and knew just how popular the new format could be. Today, I am CFO and CIO, with a specialist role in developing our IT and POS systems to help franchisees maximise their returns.’ 

This means finding better ways of doing things across the board, says Alex. ‘A centralised menu and recipes mean better buying and less wastage. Good kitchen processes save time. The same goes for staff: properly-trained staff treat the customers well, and good processes save errors. For example, our wait staff all carry iPad’s so they can place orders on the spot. It’s all about collecting raw data at the earliest possible opportunity, then, rather than convert back to a paper system, orders go straight to electronic docket rails. It means that when the restaurant is flat out, our systems can cope. 

‘The funny thing is that when we first introduced these new systems, we got a lot of resistance. Now, if one of our team spends time in another restaurant, they go, “We forgot how hard the old way was!” That’s really our goal – to make a complex business as simple as possible. We already have best-in-class systems and technology and are constantly looking for new ideas to help us get even better. We’ve just returned from the USA’s National Restaurant Association show in Chicago and regularly meet international software partners to find the best possible solutions. There’s no one product that will do it all, but when you cherry pick the right ones and link them together, the outcome is incredibly powerful.’ 

good owners are good managers

Nathan is now looking for new franchisees for key locations throughout New Zealand. ‘You don’t need hospitality experience, but you do need to be able to manage a team of perhaps 20 full- and part-timers as well as create a welcoming environment. You need to be prepared to work in the restaurant yourself, especially at first, although as you become established you can spend more time working on the business than in it. And you need to be prepared to invest $500,000 to $1 million, depending on location, although our track record means a good proportion of this can be funded through the banks.’ 

Alex agrees it’s a sizeable investment. Is the return on investment worth it? ‘Well, let’s put it this way – we’ve invested in five of them,’ he laughs. ‘Now we want to hear from others ready to take an old favourite brand with a modern, highly-profitable business model all around New Zealand.’   

See this advertorial on page 11 of Franchise New Zealand magazine Year 26 Issue 2

Contact details for Cobb & Co.

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