Women in franchising: BB's Coffee & Muffins:

'We've always enjoyed working at BB's and love making coffee'... Taking on a franchise was the next step on the career ladder for enterprising BB's Coffee & Muffins employees Carli Horsburgh and Maria Hepburn. Rachel Spaul reports

Determination, careful attention to providing good customer service and a love of the BB's Coffee & Muffins brand have led Carli Horsburgh (28) and Maria Hepburn (31) to scale the career ladder from temporary café assistants to franchisees.

Working part-time in the Cramlington BB's Coffee and Muffins café while studying for her physiology degree, Carli laid the foundations for a career that would see her progress through the ranks to Training Manager. While working in the Newcastle café she became friends with Maria, who had also worked her way up the career ladder to become Newcastle Store Manager and then Area Manager for the North of England.

Having worked in many different facets of the business, Carli and Maria decided that they wanted to set up a catering business together and began researching their options. With their extensive experience of BB's, taking on a franchise was the next logical step and in 2005 they took on the Cramlington franchise.

'We know BB's inside out,' says Carli, 'so it was more logical and less of a risk to go that way. We like the products, believe in the brand and have seen the phenomenal growth of the company - and we wanted to be a part of that.' Carli retained her position as BB's Training Manager to ensure the partnership had a firm financial footing and one regular income, leaving when the pair acquired their second franchise for Newcastle the following year.
Carli runs the Newcastle café and Maria runs Cramlington but the two make the most of their complementary skills. 'We work well as a team,' adds Carli. 'I concentrate more on product, training and administration, while Maria is more customer-focused.' Carli was recently presented with the 'Barista of the Year Award', an annual franchisee award presented to BB's most skilful and innovative barista.

Cramlington is a very successful café and demonstrates year-on-year growth. It is in a small village 10 miles from Newcastle and is very popular with local residents, who are loyal customers and expect their retailers to demonstrate a commitment to the community and to be a part of it.

Newcastle has been more of a challenge and Carli and Maria have implemented a number of new initiatives, including a refurbishment, to establish a customer base and to compete with other cafés and chains in the area. 'When we took over the Newcastle café it was struggling,' Carli reveals. 'We are turning the business around and are slowly regaining customer loyalty. We've done a lot of marketing in various magazines, will be providing a delivery service, have pushed the loyalty card scheme and are trying to go the extra mile for customers.'

Carli recalls the early days of training new franchisees: 'There were very few women taking on franchises and men were often wary of us. We were the underdogs but thanks to our extensive experience the respect we get from franchisees is fantastic.'

The secret to their success is their commitment to the business, attention to customer service, ability to motivate their staff, hard work and willingness to take advice where necessary. They are both very hands-on in the business but as their BB's café portfolio expands they aim to employ managers to run Cramlington and Newcastle.

'We're 100 per cent committed to what we're doing,' concludes Carli. 'We've always enjoyed working at BB's, and we love making coffee. We're both passionate about how things look and giving the customers a great coffee experience.'