Escaping the Daily Grind - Spending time with Donna Quinn
After 10 years with the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group in Western Australia and Queensland Donna accepted the position of State Operations Manager WA and SA for Wesfarmers overseeing the operations of 5 leading Perth venues and 6 venues in Adelaide. Leaving Wesfarmers in 2013 to start her own consulting business, Donna launched Coco Belle Espresso Bar in Mt Pleasant. Finalists in the Gold Plate Awards in 2016 in their first year of operation, Donna and Coco Belle are set to achieve great things in 2017. We were honoured to spend time with Donna and to hear just how she escaped the daily grind.
Tell us about you and Coco Belle!
I have been working in the hospitality industry in one form or another since I was 12 years old. My first job was in a deli serving over the counter; I told the owner I was 14 so they would employ me! Since then I have never stopped loving the hospitality vibe. The feeling that you get working alongside other fun loving, outgoing people who love being in the industry as much as I do. Coco Belle was born from that love of hospitality and the desire to create a local offering that would bring people together. I loved the idea of creating a local community destination that allows for real relationship building with others.
Motivation & Mindset
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
Having spent many years working in corporate hospitality roles I have always been passionate about creating local offerings that encourage people to come together; to relax and unwind in an environment that feels as familiar as home.
Having felt the restrictions of being tied to preferred suppliers and rebate deals in the past, my desire with Coco Belle was to bring flexibility and freshness to the plate. I wanted to hand pick the freshest ingredients from the markets and to let innovation and creative juices dictate what was delivered to our customers each day. This has been Coco Belle's business strategy; create and make everything in-house. Use only the freshest of produce, be creative and let passion for food drive our brand - it's our point of difference.
I also strongly believe in understanding both your local competition and your local market, so when a tenancy in a new building became available in my local area, I jumped at the chance to create Coco Belle.
Benefits & Best Bits
What are the benefits of owning a small business?
There are many benefits in owning a small business, the obvious being you work for yourself! More than that though it allows you the opportunity to really get to know your customers; to understand who they are and what they want. I find they almost become part of the family. I love it when customers meet other customers when they are in here relaxing and friendships form. Coco Belle has truly become the local meeting point in Mt Pleasant.
What has been the most satisfying moment for you in business?
The most satisfying moments for me personally are when you have the same customer coming in with different people more than once a day because they love the place. The local people here have been our biggest advocates and for that we are truly grateful.
Mentors & Magic
Who has been most influential in your career; and why?
The most influential person in my career was Allan Jefferies, previous State Manager for the ALH Group. Allan taught me to never be satisfied with the first answer that was given, to keep questioning the team until you really understood the facts and to then make a call.
How do you continue to grow and stay relevant?
I believe my love of the industry makes this easy. My husband and I are self confessed foodies who love to try out everything that is new, to really experience different offerings both in Australia and overseas and take away ideas to utilise.
How do you motivate your team to deliver an exceptional experience and care about the business as much as you do?
This is a tough one but I really believe that the team have to be involved in the decisions made within the business. Staff are your front line. They are the ones regularly communicating with your customers. They know first hand what they want and are the best people to consult with when making decisions that impact on offerings or service. You have to trust that your team understands your business culture and principles; then let them get on with it! Always encourage innovation, give them the space to be creative and to come up with new ideas. Staff engagement is critical and directly correlates with exceptional service.
How do you build a successful customer base and brand?
Word of mouth is paramount to any business. To create strong business advocates, you have to engage. Customers need to feel that they matter to you and are valued within your business. I always spend time connecting and encourage my team to do the same.
Soliciting feedback is also critical to building a strong brand. You need to know what your customers think of you. Talking with your customers is the fastest way to know if you are meeting expectations.
Challenges & Trip Ups!
What hurdles have you faced and how did you get through them?
The biggest hurdle I faced in starting Coco Belle was being dependent on others for an opening date. It was a new build. We project managed our plans to be ready for the proposed opening; then council hit a bump delaying the project by over a month. With all our funds and energy tied up in the project and no revenue coming in, it was difficult not to feel frustrated. We had no option but to turn this into a positive and took the time to fine tune things and to start meeting the locals. I spent a month connecting with our customers and introduced them to our story. By the time we opened we already had an engaged customer base. Funnily enough, adopting a proactive approach with the council and taking the time to meet the locals turned a disaster into solid beginnings.
Lessons Learned; Advice for Rookies!
If lunching with someone contemplating starting a business similar to yours, what advice would you give them? And what lessons have you learned?
The advice I would give them would be to really understand their expectations from the business prior to starting it. Have they completed a thorough business and financial plan and have they estimated what they think they are worth every hour? This will help them to determine whether it is worthwhile or not. There is no point crossing your fingers and hoping you do well, research and realistic goals are the key.
They need to consider the potential for future growth in the business; how much growth can realistically be predicted? They need to intimately know their customer base, their competitors and any future changes in the area that may affect them.
I would advise them to be in a financial position where they can survive at least 12 months with no income from the business. This will give them a solid foundation to weather unexpected challenges and to pay off any unnecessary ongoing costs up front such as equipment hire or excess interest costs.
Only start a business if you are prepared to give it your all and it is in an industry that you are completely passionate about.
Your thoughts on Perth’s hospitality market
What’s your current perception of the Perth hospitality market? Where do you see its future direction?
The proliferation of small bars and other exciting additions to Perth has been fantastic. Perth is really coming into its own and creating its own personality. More than ever before there is a really different vibe in the city. People are willing to spend their money on great offerings and I believe this will continue. Hoteliers and business owners will still need to fine tune their operations to stay relevant and cost effective, but I think if well managed operations will continue to prosper.
What’s the key to making profit in this market?
The key for me has always been to create advocates of your business through delivering exceptional customer service. Loyal customers make a direct impact on your bottom line. Clearly you need to watch labour, gross profit and expenses, but raving fan customers will increase profit every time.
What’s the most common service mistake you encounter in Perth venues?
Staff who have the arrogance to believe that they are better than the customer. The customer is the only reason they are employed in the first place!
How do you start and end your day?
My day starts with either a 6am start at work or the routine of getting my 2 children off to school. I usually end my day with a nice glass of wine and chatting with the family about our day over something delicious for dinner.
Are you coffee or tea?
I have to say coffee of course!
Drink of choice?
Always bubbles if it’s a party or a G&T when relaxing.
Describe your perfect day off
Being on the water with my family.
What's the most exciting thing you have done over the past year?
Sneakily skipping town for a long weekend in Noosa with my girlfriends.
What’s left on your bucket list that you are dying to do?
Absolutely would have to be seeing the Northern Lights and having a white Christmas.
If you enjoyed spending time with Donna as much as we did....be sure to hit the 💙 button below, then share the article. If you would like to connect with Donna you can do so through LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donna-quinn-72135757/ or better still….. drop by and see her at Coco Belle Espresso Bar 21 Queens Road, Mount Pleasant.