Almost a year on from the opening of the Nader Petroleum Group’s Urbanista store at Smeaton Grange in New South Wales, C&I Week spoke with the group’s MD, Eddy Nader, to find out how the group is performing, expansion plans and what is driving Urbanista’s success.
Q. What has the reaction to Urbanista been?
The reaction has been really positive. Smeaton Grange is a new area and we built Urbanista there from scratch so as the area grows we are growing with it.
The most promising thing is the amount of people who come just to buy a coffee, for example on their way to work, and are not just purchasing petrol. We actually have people phoning through orders in the morning before they get here.
People are certainly talking about it too. I overhead two women in a bank talking about ‘that new servo down at Smeaton Grange’. I was really pleased to hear what they had to say, particularly when one said, ‘it doesn’t feel like a servo’. We want to be so much more than a servo, and it’s great that people are feeling comfortable and enjoying the Urbanista atmosphere.
Q. Are we likely to be seeing any more new Urbanista stores?
Yes, we are rolling out more stores. We will be refurbishing existing stores within the Nader Petroleum Group. We have five BP fuel sites in NSW and refurbishments at our Condell Park site will start next month and we are looking at Chipping Norton later in the year.
After Condell Park and Chipping Norton we are looking at two other sites we own, so there will be a couple of new stores joining the network. But I can’t give too much away, you’ll have to wait and see.
Q. Will there be any major differences or additions to the Urbanista model in new stores?
Our store design is important to us, as is the service customers experience in store. Smeaton Grange was a new site built from the ground up, both Condell Park and Chipping Norton are existing sites, so we will adapt the Urbanista model with a fitout that suits those sites.
We learnt a valuable lesson from Smeaton Grange, and that is we that need two cake displays – an ambient display for pastry and cookies and a controlled ambient display for creamier dessert products. I’ve seen it firsthand now; you can’t put things like rock cake and Danish twists in a controlled ambient unit because they start to take up the moisture. At Smeaton Grange we can’t sell those products unless we rip the whole counter apart to install a second unit – which I don’t really want to do! At future sites we are just going to put two units in at the start… you live and learn.
At Smeaton Grange we have seating for 11 and that has been working well. But Condell Park is a more restricted site in terms of space and parking and so there’s only going to be a bench for three people. We’re going to have the similar issues over at Chipping Norton as it’s an existing site too.
Q. When will we see the two new Urbanista stores open?
We’re expecting both to be open by end of year. Chipping Norton will get refurbed into Urbanista towards the back end of this year or early next year – we are pushing for this year.
Q. What are your busiest trading times at Smeaton Grange?
We’ve noticed that mornings, through to about 10.30am, are really busy times for our coffee, pastry and cake lines. There are three staff on then; one on coffee and two people serving.
There is a bit of a quiet period between 10.30am and midday. At midday it just explodes again with pies and sandwiches.
Q. Does being located in an industrial area affect trade?
Initially, trade on Saturdays and Sundays was really quiet but then the coffee started kicking off. There’s a lot of housing surrounding the industrial estate and we started getting customers parking out the front and getting their coffee and a muffin or a doughnut. We were serving about 20 cups of coffee on a Saturday when we first opened but we’re now up to 130 to 140 cups on a Saturday.
Q. So your breakfast coffee bundle offer is a real success?
Definitely, customers like it, but it wouldn’t work unless the quality was there. I quickly realised that, particularly during the morning trade, you need a qualified barista. Customers know the difference. My advice to others is, if you don’t have a professionally trained barista on site, don’t even bother going with a ‘barista’ offer.
Q. How important is barista training?
All our staff are trained under a deal I’ve struck with our coffee supplier, Mocopan. We have training every three months. Next month one of the Mocopan barista trainers will come out and put our four newest staff through a refresher course. I won’t employ staff who won’t (or can’t) make a good coffee.
Q. In terms of your expectations, has anything surprised you?
The one thing that has totally, totally, surprised me is the amount of doughuts and muffins people are eating! I’ve stuck with Balfours as our supplier, I’ve always dealt with them. We did try another company’s products but they didn’t perform as well. As soon as we put Balfours back, sales skyrocketed. I still can’t believe how many doughnuts and muffins we can sell out of that store.
Q. What have you learnt about coffee customers?
Customers compare coffee from various outlets and we don’t use a standard corporate blend. Our customers like that, they appreciate our coffee. Our customers are telling us that they’re actually coming back, going out of their way, for our coffee. That’s very pleasing.
I’ve made a conscious decision that we have got to do the coffee right. We offer soy, skim or full cream milks. We tried almond milk too but customers didn’t want it, so we didn’t continue with it. We also do flavour shots; caramel, vanilla and hazelnut. It has surprised me how many people want a shot of something in their coffee – but then again I’m Lebanese and just want coffee as coffee!
Q. Where do you see Urbanista in five years time?
I’ve had a few people ask me if I’m interested in franchising [the Urbanista model], but at the moment I’m not. I want to get it right for myself first. I’ve seen friends burnt when they’ve taken on franchises. I’d feel bad if that were to happen. I don’t think it’s an ethical way to do business. Once we get it right, we might look at franchising but not right now.