THE ENTREPRENEURIAL URGE
Written on the 11 July 2014 by Laura Daquino
TOM Potter just can’t fight the entrepreneurial urge.
He is back in full force, mentoring co-owner brothers Sean and Colby Carthew of Brisbane business Burger Urge.
The Carthews contacted Potter in 2008 shortly after he sold Eagle Boys. The veteran retailer has since mentored them through business infancy to a point now where they have purchased the Urban Burger franchise.
The company has ambitious plans to open 40 Burger Urge outlets by December 2016, nine of which will be converted from Urban Burger.
The man who invented the two-minute pizza drive-through took up a serious mentoring position with the brand about a year ago and is convinced he has the goods to take Burger Urge to another level.
“We have written up the long-term business plan and are now at a stage where we are convinced Burger Urge has a sustainable point of difference in what it can offer the consumer,” says Potter.
The Big Idea is to fill a gap in the fast casual restaurant market, an area which is booming beyond the belief of even a self-confessed fast-food junkie like Potter.
“Right now, it’s all about the fast casual market, which I couldn’t have predicted ten years ago,” says Potter, naming models such as Nando’s and Grill’d as prototypes to be improved on.
“Generation-Y’s 18 to 35 year olds are spending enormous amounts of money on this type of food and they rarely think twice about it – it’s really astonishing.”
The Carthews detected opportunity in the fast casual market and entered it with a bang in 2007, shaking things up with controversial marketing campaigns such as condom letterbox drops and recruiting Warwick Capper as the leader of their registered Burger Urge Political Party.
These guerrilla marketing antics served their purpose, but Potter guarantees they “won’t happen again”, confident there are better ways to disrupt the market that are more closely aligned with the brand.
According to Potter, it boils down to creating a quality product sold at a mid-tier price point at an optimal location.
“The Burger Urge model addresses the issue that many other fast casual restaurants have, where they take on huge spaces, pay expensive rents and fill seats only once a day,” says Potter.
“Our model is currently a split between dine-in and take-out,” Sean Carthew adds. “About 60 to 70 per cent of the transactions are being picked up, but we believe that will change in the future.”
If it’s any indication of the business direction, the team has recently invested in delivery scooters and has been intensely reviewing competitors’ price points – Potter says paying $40 to $50 for two people at a fast casual restaurant is “absolutely ridiculous”.
Despite positioning Burger Urge as the “value-conscious option”, Potter is still adamant about not compromising on product quality.
Product is Potter’s priority – it has been since his days at Eagle Boys to testing out the Burger Urge menu. In fact, recommendations to the product were the first step in the Potter-Carthew business relationship.
“I’m a product-focused person, so when the boys approached me, one of the first things I did was go into the store and critique the menu,” says Potter.
“I immediately said we had to do an entire overhaul and truthfully didn’t think I’d hear from them again – people typically burn you after you deliver harsh criticism, albeit it was constructive.”
However, the Carthew brothers were sold on Potter’s pragmatic business approach. Six months passed and they returned to him with a brand new menu.
“Long story short, this communication continued, and we fell into a situation where I was mentoring the boys for about an hour every month for four years,” says Potter, who was taken by the Carthew’s persistence.
While the menu and marketing are now in check, the team is increasingly facing the challenge of balancing the interests of customers and stakeholders as the business grows.
Franchising is thrown into the mix, where Potter’s experience is most valuable.
The 40-store plan by December 2016 involves another five stores by the end of this year, 10 franchise sites next year and another 20 in the following year. Potter will be investing as a franchisee and he says there has been interest from previous Eagle Boys franchisees as well. The team is currently tossing up between focusing on regional or interstate locations.
When it comes to location, it’s not just a matter of zoning in on competition or finding unchartered territory for the Burger Urge team.
“There is a strict criterion for location,” says Potter, who used the same formula to keep the Eagle Boys store failure rate below one per cent when he was heading up the company.
“It involves foot and car traffic divided by demographics, access and cotenants, as well as identifying the premises as a night-trading or day-trading scene.”
However, Potter says sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why one store is successful and another isn’t.
He cites the success of the Burger Urge Fortitude Valley store as a key example, which would fail miserably based on the criterion.
Sometimes it comes down to taking a gamble, the speciality of a seasoned entrepreneur like Potter.