Tarek Malouf had taken inspiration from across the Atlantic when he opened his first Hummingbird Bakery location in Notting Hill over a decade ago. Fast-forward to present day and it’s probably fair to attribute much of the cupcake craze to him and his entrepreneurial hunch.
From that first location in West London, Malouf has not only opened another seven sites in the South East of England but has also exported the brand to Dubai. To find out more, and discover the role technology has played, Real Business asked Malouf a few pertinent questions.
What vision did you have for Hummingbird Bakery when you first set out?
From the beginning, the idea was to bring American home baked-style treats to London, all made fresh onsite. This was in 2002, which was a time when we didn’t quite have the food craze that we do now, and you’d generally have to go to the supermarket to buy a cake.
American baking was actually looked down upon in some senses, but I had grown up with it and knew the quality it had so this drove me to bring that to London. Even after 14 years of trading we’ve tried not to move away from that core idea.
How did you look to position the brand in the early days, and has this changed as you’ve gone on?
I knew what I wanted to achieve and wanted to be completely focused on this even when growing the company. You can see this in our product, our menu now compared to 2004 isn’t radically different, it is all within the same vein, under the same vision. We worked with a consultancy at the beginning that helped design our logo and colour palette, and funnily enough the graphic designer involved still works at Hummingbird Bakery. The fact that those early creators are still here, including myself, is probably the key indicator of why our brand has stayed consistent.
How did you fund the start of the company’s growth and were you ever held back by lack of funds?
I was lucky in this respect as my father gave me the initial funds to start the business. As I’ve never really wanted massive and instant growth, lack of funds haven’t held us back. Letting the bank balance increase enough to fund our growth organically has been my strategy, as it allows for the type of expansion that I’m more comfortable with.
How have you gone about identifying the right locations for new sites?
This has been done in various ways. We’ve done footfall counts, bought postcode data, seen what other brands and shops are around a site, that kind of thing. It’s not an exact science and some shops have done better than predicted and others not as good as we initially thought.
What is the most challenging part of managing a business operating across multiple sites?
Quite simply, consistency. Consistency in our product but also in our service. You need to have a solid foundation on which to open new sites and train new employees, but you can’t be in every store all the time.
In 2011, we opened our Spitalfields shop and about six months later, our Islington store. However, both of these floundered at the start. Selecting, designing, building and opening a shop is quite straightforward, but it’s what happens next that is tricky, and of course this is more true when opening stores further afield that you can’t visit every week.
How does technology help with this?
We’ve adopted Dropbox Business to ensure that each store provides a consistent, quality product and customer service.
Dropbox really comes into its own when we’re opening new stores. Our most recent venture has been three franchises in Dubai, and we’re looking to open more stores in the area.
All of our recipes and brand manuals are now accessible via Dropbox Business. Before, a recipe would be emailed out and stored locally, which can be slow and very restrictive. Today, we can all collaborate together on new recipes in real-time and instantly gain valuable input and ideas from each store.
Being able to be creative together is extremely important, especially with dispersed teams, as it helps to keep our product relevant to the market we’re in. Now, we install Dropbox Business in every store from day one, which means all new branches are in-line with what makes us a success.
What is important for you when it comes to achieving brand consistency?
It’s wise to remember that the original idea, the product and human interaction are the cornerstones of business.
The product we offer, how we sell it to our customers and the way our stores operate are the main drivers of success in our business – and so we must strive to ensure complete consistency across everything we do. This has created a collaborative and creative culture across the business, driven by myself.
Why did you decide to take the business to Dubai, and what is different about getting established there?
Our operation there is different in the sense that it works through a franchise, so it is a bit more autonomous, but again our use of technology has helped keep things synced. We had been approached by parties in Asia looking to take on Hummingbird Bakery as a franchise for many years, and so this gave us time to find a partner we could trust, and one that was well-versed in establishing companies such as ourselves in the Middle East.
What future growth plans are you putting in place?
We’re looking at opening more stores both here in the UK and through our franchise operation in the Middle East. We’re also building our new website from scratch, as well as introducing iPad tills in stores.
Everything needs to be future-proofed. I am a perfectionist, so need to get everything right in our stores, and then we can move onto the next one. It’s important to pick technology and solutions that can provide ways for you and your employees to communicate and work together, and one that you can use now but also grow your business with as well.
If you could swap your day with one entrepreneur who would that be?
To be honest, I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur and would frankly be terrified to swap my day with someone who thought of themselves as one. It would be far too stressful for me and I have enough of that in my life. I would be happy to swap places with the owner of a sleepy, beachside bar in Bora Bora or a Caribbean island, but might want to stay there more than a day!