Phil Gijsbers is a man on a mission. The proprietor of three café businesses, From on High, Hard Pressed Coffee and Saint James Café, he has plans to open four new enterprises in Melbourne this year, as well as a branch of Hard Pressed in New York.
He has a unique approach to business development, which is to support his staff to spearhead their own commercial initiatives.
“In hospitality you need to empower great staff to keep them. People underestimate how capable Gen Y can be; they don’t realise the resource they have,” Gijsbers says
For instance, Gijsbers is poised to open a coffee roasting house and espresso bar in Victoria’s Collingwood, headed by two baristas who work for him who came up with the concept.
He is also collaborating with Maker Fine Coffee in Richmond to roast coffee, in the lead-up to the arrival of his own coffee roasting machine, which is presently being made in Germany. The collaboration ensures the baristas running the coffee roasting project can master the art of coffee roasting.
“Staff who are heading up these projects have the company’s resources behind them. They can also arrange their rosters so they have time for these projects,” he explains.
Another project Gijsbers and his staff have on the go is a Small Print Pizza Bar, which is a collaboration with one of his baristas. Opening in the evening, the vibe will be a bar serving pizzas with a business motto of “less waste through smart choices”.
“This means working with our suppliers to reduce packing, providing quality food, drinks and service all while minimising the overall impact on the planet.
With so many staff leading new initiatives, Gijsbers is skilled at delegation. His wise advice to other business owners who also want to take their hands off the reigns a little is to be prepared to accept a level of inefficiency at the start of any new project.
“It’s often two steps forward and one step back. As the business grows so does its capacity and the capacity of the people in it. As the business owner you don’t need to be involved in every decision if you enable your team,” he adds.
He’ll soon send local staff to the New York business to train new hires. “The brunch scene is really lacking over there. You can get good coffee, but they tend to only serve pastries and cakes before lunch. We have a really good product in Melbourne that will work in New York where you can go out, not spend too much money and eat a really healthy meal, with great service and atmosphere to go with it.”
Gijsbers is also exploring how the company can become cash free. “The small business landscape is getting even tougher and margins are shrinking. We want to keep rethinking assumptions and making sure we’re looking at every part of the business. Going cash free will mean we are more efficient during peak times,” he says.
It’s an initiative he plans to phase in, and communication with customers will be key. He sees it as an extension of the prepaid loyalty cards the business introduced some time ago, which offer members better prices and other benefits. Customers pass the card, which has the their regular coffee order on it, straight to the barista. So the transaction is more about having a chat, rather than taking a coffee order, making it more enjoyable for everyone.
Gijsbers’ advice to other small businesses is to remember that innovation doesn’t have to be expensive.
“There’s a lot of wasted potential in small business. Many don’t use the tools they already have and there’s an opportunity for business owners to rethink what’s around them, especially given how quickly business practices are changing. It’s not just the likes of Tesla that can innovative. Everything can be done a different way.”
His other secret to success is to have fun. “Everyone needs to be able to look forward to their day. Hospitality is such a fun industry and making people happy is key to having a good business. For many of our staff and customers, that’s what it’s all about,” Gijsbers says.