Bharti Radix - BloomsYardby Ben Sibley
We speak to Bharti Radix, owner of BloomsYard, to get the lowdown on launching a successful multi-site business during unprecedented trading conditions.
Like many of us during the lockdowns of 2020, Bharti Radix took a moment to step back and widen the lens on her life. A successful career in finance within the hospitality industry across three decades had given her significant experience in businesses at varying stages of growth and demise.
Five years as Head of Finance at Jamie's Italian during its growth from one restaurant to 44 (2008-2013) was followed by three years as Financial Director at Draft House (2015-2018) during its growth to 16 sites, and then a brief stint as Chief Financial Officer at Coffeesmiths Collective (2019-2020).
By the time Covid hit, Bharti knew what worked and what didn't. She had first-hand experience of successful business models, failed business models, and how to identify both but avoid one. Sweeping the leaves from in front of her, she saw that the path lead to opening her own business. Enter BloomsYard.
The decision to launch was made during lockdown one in April 2020 and within a few weeks the BloomsYard webstore opened. We'd spoken with Bharti during this initial launch phase and after lockdown ended, welcomed her to our Brixton roastery in August. BloomsYard Watford opened a few weeks later.
Lockdown two forced her to close the site in December 2020 but even this didn't nudge the plan off course, Watford reopened in April 2021 and a second site - BloomsYard Liverpool Street - opened the following month. With another two sites rumoured in 2022, we caught up with Bharti to get the lowdown on launching a multi-site business in one of the toughest trading periods the industry has ever seen...
Chief Financial Officer to coffee shop owner - quite a change, no?
I fell into hospitality with the role at Jamie’s Italian. I didn’t actually know the job was at Jamie’s when I applied but I quickly fell in love with the industry. I was immersed in the culture, the people, the products and it clearly piqued an interest I already had in food and drink.
I knew at that point I didn't want to work in another sector and although I moved on to a number of subsequent finance roles I would find myself refining my own approach to managing my own business. During the first lockdown in 2020 I’d just left Coffeesmiths Collective, my husband and I were discussing what was next and I thought ‘why not!’
You opened during Covid-restricted trading, how was that?
It’s been tricky. Trading is steady now but as recently as the ‘Pingdemic’ we had to shut down for a week due to enforced staff absence. The continued pain point is the labour gap. Available, capable staff are hard to come by and it means I need to be totally flexible to take on all tasks large and small just to keep the business ticking over, which I don't mind at all.
I'd experienced the majority of day-to-day operational hurdles during my previous roles but Covid throws first-time challenges at you and you have to work them out on the fly. For example, suppliers are stretched and naturally prioritise their key customers. This means as a new business we have to get creative when sourcing small goods - many suppliers just don't have the capacity to take on new customers. No longer can you expect to contact a prospective supplier and have your custom welcomed with open arms.
Reducing costs is the first instinct for many during a crisis. Is it your finance background that gives you confidence to push forward even when the conditions are adverse?
My business plan is quite simple. I don’t want to be a massive chain - I would like to open two shops a year for five years and so that’s what I’m keeping to, whether we're locked down or not.
Decisions are easier when they’re made against a plan. I decided to do this in April 2020. By May I had the webstore open and then, when an opportunity came around for what became our first unit, I decided to lock it in. We were open by September.
I felt prepared - really I’ve been learning and honing skills for this next stage of my career for close to two decades. And I think I'm naturally programmed to think in an analytical data-first way anyway - I’m constantly working out returns versus costs. Having an accurate live view on this gives you the confidence to push forward.
If you could give someone one piece of financial advice when launching a business, what would it be?
If I had to choose just one piece of advice, it would be to start with your systems. You’ll need accurate information to make the right decisions. If you don’t want to spend forever unpicking transactions one at a time, you need to have your financial management system set up and configured properly from day one.
Strategic decision making is important, remembering that 'cash is king' is important, but you need to know where, when and on what you’re spending your money. You might not rely on these systems at the beginning but trust me, it’s going to dictate your direction of travel further down the line.
This approach is crucial if you want to scale. You can take a cookie-cutter approach to rolling out sites but if the overall framework isn't in place and working well, that’s when I’ve seen multi-site businesses fail.
You need to have the key metrics available to view on a granular site-by-site basis, you need a wider group view, and you need to be able to make sense of every operational process and how they slot together in practice. Otherwise how do you know what makes money and what doesn’t? Is wastage high and are margins low? If you have your systems working efficiently, you'll find all the answers in your numbers.
Is this the secret to scaling, too?
It's key. When purchasing another business, typically all the reports and balance sheets will be included in the sale. But if these aren’t in order, or aren't accessible (e.g. if the business is in administration), then you have no idea of the health of the business you're inheriting.
And you need your staff to understand your vision, what the business priorities are and how these drive the business forward. I work shifts at our original site in Watford - it helps me keep my finger on the pulse of our customers but it also helps me set the tone for how I want my staff to communicate the brand. You need to lead by example and be confident that when you can't be present on site, the customer experience matches your own expectations.
I share sales data with all of my team - managers have full view of the numbers for their site and they enable senior management to contextualise cross-site reports.
Lastly, developing the brand is key. Opening multiple sites in different locations will stretch the brand idea and test whether or not it can resonate with varying customer markets. So you need to adjust and be agile without diluting the overall brand vision - it's a tricky balancing act but get it right and you're flying.
What about investment?
I think it’s a personal decision. You have to ask yourself what you want from their investment, how involved do you need them to be and how involved do you want them to be?
Your business plan should tell you if you need investment. Bottom line is that it depends how much cash you need to execute versus the extent to which you're comfortable letting go of the reins.
You could consider business loans but I don’t think you should be overly scared of debt - you can leverage debt in ways to benefit you, especially if you have big growth aspirations. It's likely to be a necessity but you need to do it considerately. You need to have a realistic cash flow forecast as far ahead as possible.
How do you value a business for sale?
It's different industry to industry. I evaluate a business on a multiple of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation). And for this to be provable, it all comes down to systems, systems, systems. Online and offline. There's no getting away from it.
When selling a business you have to present a vast amount of data that upholds the valuation you’ve set. To prepare for this you need to have set up what is commonly known as a data room - a space to securely store information with the intention of sharing it confidentially. Simply put, this refers to all of the paperwork that proves your business evaluation down to the last penny and pound.
I strongly believe you need to run a business as if you’re planning to sell it, no matter whether you are or not. That means establishing and maintaining that data room from day one.
How do you see the industry in the next few years?
I think consumer desire for independent coffee shops will continue to grow. For me and the wider industry, this means it has to be about scaling operations while protecting your authenticity as an independent brand. I think we'll see more multi-site independent brands with increasingly excellent offerings and top-shelf customer service. And the successful brands will be data-driven, brave and committed to being in it for the long haul.
Photos used in this article were taken at the beautiful BloomsYard Liverpool Street location. Details on both BloomsYard sites below.
BloomsYard Liverpool Street
Open Monday to Friday 8.00-18.00 for coffee, pastries, sandwiches, beer and wine.
Open Monday to Saturday 9.00-18.00, Sunday 11.00-17.00 for coffee, pastries, sandwiches, anti-pasti, beer, wine and gifts.