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Cafe2U mobile coffee van franchise inteview with Michael Dolahenty NSW

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How Cafe2U has brought  success plus a more relaxed lifestyle

Michael Dolahenty started his Cafe2U mobile espresso van in Cromer-Dee Why, New South Wales, Australia, at the beginning of 2010 — becoming the company's 100th franchise partner. He quickly distinguished himself, being named New South Wales Franchisee of the Year.

What were you doing before Cafe2U?

I'd been working for people all my life. I spent 15 years working for a supermarket chain and the rest of the time I was in a variety of sales positions. My last job before Cafe2U was working for a disability company for 13 years bringing in business for its factories. I wanted to stop all the traveling around Sydney, dealing with the traffic. I wanted to try something different and I started reading a lot about the coffee business. I didn't have the confidence to go into business for myself without the support of a franchise, and they seemed to be a good proposition. Cafe2U's business is all very local. Our route is built around the area where we live and we like the franchise.

How did you find out about Cafe2U?

I'd seen a van crawl on the other side of Sydney, where I worked, but the idea really started with my wife. She is a dental nurse,and she had a patient who worked for Belaroma, the coffee roaster for Cafe2U. My wife was talking to them about my interest in coffee businesses and he said to be sure to take a good look at Cafe2U. I'd already been researching businesses through the internet. We kept looking at Cafe2U, and when we made an inquiry we learned that this franchise was coming up for sale here where we live.

Business has been good, and it is an interesting job. There are a lot of interesting places you go with a Cafe2U van. Places that you normally wouldn't visit — especially with some of the events that come up. Some of the extra special places I've been are the Botanical Gardens in Sydney, right there on the shore, looking across the harbour to the opera house. I've been into Sydney for an International Lions convention in one of the big parks that you normally wouldn't be invited into. Also, it allows you to be part of the community. There is a place nearby called Bear Cottage, which is a hospice for children. I was at a Christmas party for a children's hospice. That's not far from where I live and I get coffee donated by Cafe2U and cups and I help out. I was there for about four or five hours doing coffees for the Christmas party. There's a couple of different events like that, and it gives you a really good feeling to be able to put something back in the community and there are parents and doctors who are there and they are happy to be able to receive a really nice coffee.

At other events, like with a sports club, you might give them a 10% rebate back to the club. I just finished working with a baseball team for the season.

What sets Cafe2U apart?

I think Cafe2U is the market leader because they know what they're doing. As far as a franchise, they certainly seem to look after the people. It doesn't just have to be about money. A lot of it is about building relationships. It's not just about making money — it's about having good products and good coffee. You feel very confident when you work with them. The way they launch you is really tremendous. For the first two weeks, I had the franchise development manager with me every day, guiding me through the process, giving coffees away so that people would know the product, and talking to people and encouraging me and showing me the best way to grow the business. I had my stepson working with me on the launch and we just went from there. It's all just first class.

Who makes a good Cafe2U franchisee? What attracted you to it?

You want to be happy to talk to people. You should be someone who likes working with the community and someone who likes building relationships. Your people skills don't have to be super strong, but just building relationships so that people get to know you. They'll love your coffee, but a lot of it is relationship building, too. Once you've got some of these things established, the money part — the profits — just start flowing.

It probably took me a few months to become profitable. It depends on what sort of competition you've got and how much coffee you want to give away to start out. We have now built up a really good food business with fresh sandwiches and wraps and muffins and cakes, and I'm selling pies. You should be able to be starting making small profits within the first couple of months.

How large is the opportunity?

Over here there is a fair bit of competition. There is tremendous demand for good coffee. I had never made coffee before. They say it's recession proof, because people like to have a nice cup of espresso coffee and it's something that you can always afford. I think there will be opportunities for a long time to come.

Who are your main customers? Who are your best customers?

It is quite a varied group of customers; some office customers, some factory workers. I've got one factory that has six guys there and, you know, they could spend $10 a person and more just on food — and then drinks on top of that. They are busy working guys, and they like to have a big morning meal. I get ladies who come out from the offices. I serve mechanics. There is a glass-making place on my route and a school. I'm working from about 5:50 a.m. until 12:30 to 1 p.m. I've got one nursing home —I get a few of the residents and staff that come out for that.

It's varied, but I'm not going a long way. I'm making about 32 stops, and I'm probably driving no more than six miles. There are opportunities to serve construction workers as building sites pop up. You slot them in when you can. Sometimes your customers move out of the area, so you continually look to accrue. Sometimes you might have to move somebody around so you can take on a better job in a better timeslot. Cafe2U is willing to help you with redevelopment like that. A franchise development manager is just a phone call away.

What does your typical day look like?

My first stop is about 6 a.m., the last stop is around 12:30 p.m. I may work a little longer as it gets colder. I've had a few requests for afternoon coffee. You don't want to wear yourself out too much.

One of the things I love is being near where I live. It's a very beautiful part of the world here. As I drive and make my stops, I'm often looking at the surf from different vantage points. I'm not sitting in traffic. I'm looking at the ocean instead of somebody else's back bumper. It's a nice. If I want to, I can clean up, place some orders and be completely done with the business by 2 p.m.

My family is all grown up — I've got one son living here who is going to university — so it gives me an opportunity to do more on the weekend with events. I know that some of the Cafe2U owners, when they've got young families, they pace themselves with events because they want to spend time with their family and they can rely on the good business they get Monday through Friday. I'm 59 this year, so I'm doing a little bit more just to put a bit of a nest egg away for my retirement.

Do you own one unit or several? Why?

I don't think I'll do more than one van unless I had a family member to put into it, and at this point in time, it doesn't appear that way.

How much of your business is delivering to businesses vs. working at events?

The event work for me just depends on the case. Monday through Friday is my main core business. The weekend work is just probably 20 percent of what I take during the week, depending on what the event is and how strong it is. Sometimes you get events that are really good. Others aren't so good. It just depends what's in your area. Working with the sports clubs can be good. When you get an early morning sporting event and people are there, it usually goes quite well — especially if people know you're providing a rebate back to the club.

What is a secret to your success?

I suppose just getting people to try the product and letting them taste the Cafe2U blend and see the way that we make it with the equipment we have in the van. We deliver fresher, better coffee, and the consistency in our coffee is a strong point. I've witnessed many people come onboard from the first taste. During the franchise launch, we have customers try out different coffees so they find one they really like.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn't before?

It has allowed me to meet a variety of different people. I have all kinds —from garbage guys that I serve early in the morning to doctors that I call on, and they all just love their coffee.

Would you recommend a Cafe2U franchise to someone else? Why?

I would, because if they're interested in this sort of work, it's quite rewarding. I just like people telling me that they're enjoying it and going from one business to another is nice — you're not stuck in one workplace. And people like it when you are there. When people come out to see you, it's not like they're going to the dentist — they're already in a good state of mind. They're going to get something good to eat and a good coffee or a good hot chocolate. The only time I get stressed out is when I get so much business that I'm running behind. So it's a great. I was driving out of the area a lot before. Now, I hardly ever leave the northern beaches — just to visit some friends sometimes on the weekend. I love it.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Cafe2U franchise owner,  just click here.