Written on the 11 August 2015 by Jenna Rathbone


WITH more than 360 cafes across nine countries including Thailand, Egypt and China, The Coffee Club has grown to become one of Australia's largest home-grown café groups.

But it isn't without its challenges, with co-founder John Lazarou saying the rise of digital technology is proving to be the biggest test.

"As technology evolves we face the challenge of people spending more time on the phone than face-to-face, folks sharing photos of food in favour of sharing a meal together and spending more time on Facebook than with their friends and family," he says.

Lazarou talks to Gold Coast Business News about how The Coffee Club is embracing technology to further grow its business, along with expansion plans and the importance of family-work balance.

With an office on the Gold Coast, Lazarou also talks about the challenges and opportunities facing local business and encourages the city to explore better catered beaches.

What are three key leadership strengths you bring to your role at The Coffee Club and how do they assist in the successful running of the business?

Passion is critical to effective leadership. The ability to wake up every morning and be happy to go to work is crucial. I strive to instil this philosophy in the wider The Coffee Club team.

Consequently, the need to lead by example is imperative in cultivating a positive culture.  It doesn't matter if you're a director, CEO, chef or kitchenhand every team member is imperative to the business, has a role to play and should be recognised for their contribution.  

Finally, relationship building with a customer-first focus is hugely important. As a customer, there is nothing better than walking into a café or restaurant and knowing who the manager is, seeing them on the floor assisting the team and interacting with others.

What have been some of the biggest challenges over the past five years for The Coffee Club and how did you overcome these?

One of the greatest challenges with a company the size of The Coffee Club is ensuring consistency across such a significant geographical footprint.

With 6000 team members within the business, it is a huge task to ensure each and every employee is provided with the knowledge, skills and hands-on training required to provide the quality food, coffee and service we expect of our brand. We have a number of systems in play to ensure we overcome this challenge. We're particularly proud of our new award-winning Learning & Development Program which has over 300 different online training modules which has also been driving positive sales results. In fact, since its inception in late 2014, stores that have completed the training are reporting an average 6.7 per cent increase in transactions.

What have been some of the biggest highlights and achievements of your career?

I am a firm believer that every business has a responsibility to give back to the community in which they operate. What's been most rewarding about The Coffee Club's phenomenal growth is the philanthropic opportunities that come with great business success. We've raised more than a million dollars for charity over the last 10 years and it's incredible to see our team build on this every day.

From a business perspective, I am also an advocate for the franchise model and every new store opening is a highlight for me. Giving people the opportunity to own and operate their own local businesses with the support and knowledge of a large organisation provides the encouragement they need to take a leap of faith and follow their career dream.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in the future for The Coffee Club?

Over the past 25 years, The Coffee Club has been a place where people connect and spend quality time with loved ones. However, as technology evolves we face the challenge of people spending more time on the phone than face-to-face, folks sharing photos of food in favour of sharing a meal together and spending more time on Facebook than with their friends and family.

In order to ensure our business continues to evolve with the modern age, it is imperative we are providing a place where meeting up means more. However, with this challenge has come the opportunity for us to evolve our company culture. Anyone who has visited The Coffee Club since we kicked-off this new brand direction with National Reconnection Month in May will have seen a welcome change across our stores. We've pledged to inspire real-life connections and are working to give human interaction a new renaissance in this digital world.

What expansion plans are in the pipeline?

With Queensland successfully established as our home base, we will continue growing the Western Australian market, and will keep an eye on locations where we can expand in NSW and Victoria.

I believe our biggest opportunities though are within the international market. I have travelled the world and believe Australia offers some of the best coffee you'll find. Neighbouring countries, particularly Pacific and Asian regions as well as the Middle East, are rapidly welcoming Australian businesses into their fold.

You have been quoted in the media as saying family is your top priority - how do you manage a busy work life with personal and family commitments?

Life is all about love and laughter. I would be lying if I said it isn't difficult, but it's about making the decision that family comes first.

We can all get swept up in deadlines and the demands of work but it comes down to perspective. More often than not, that important phone call can wait 30 minutes until after family dinner. No riches in the world can compare to the wealth of being surrounded by loving family and friends.

With an office on the Gold Coast, what makes the city a great place to do business and what can the Gold Coast do better to ensure a thriving business community?

The Gold Coast is such an iconic place. I love the breadth of offering from the hustle and bustle of the glitter strip at Surfers Paradise to the hidden hotspots up in the Hinterland. There is always something new happening here and, even before the Commonwealth Games announcement, it was gaining great international attention as one of the key places to visit in Queensland.

I do think, however, that the Gold Coast could benefit from adopting some of the practices international coastal strips do so well. On many European beaches, for example, you can rent lounges and umbrellas or order drinks and an ice-bucket. There isn't anywhere on the Gold Coast that offers this which may be okay for the nearby drive market who can BYO those little luxuries. But if we want to attract international or interstate partners, we ought to explore the option of better catered beaches.

Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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