Being General Manager of one venue is a busy enough job. So being GM of five, spread over locations including Pattaya, Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket is an even busier one. However, Phuketindex.com managed to track down Michael Chick, GM of The Coffee Club Thailand at their Jungceylon branch and asked him a few questions about what is quickly growing as one of Thailand’s most popular hangouts, The Coffee Club.
My first job was actually when I was still at high school. I worked part time in a branch of McDonald’s in my home country, Australia. When I left high school I continued working for them and worked my way up through the ranks and I ended up staying there for about 10 years.
I then left to join The Coffee Club. I worked for the group for 5 years in Australia as National Operations Manager. Then in 2008 I got a phone call from Bill Heinecke (Chairman of Minor International owners of The Coffee Club) asking if I would be interested in working in Thailand.
At the time I wasn’t interested as I was concentrating on something else and I pretty much forgot about it. However, twelve months later I received a call from Paul Kenny (CEO of Minor International) asking me if anything had changed and again asking if I was interested in working in Thailand. This time around, there was not so much happening for me in Australia so my wife and I came over for a 3 day trip. I had an interview and in the two days my wife and I had to spare, we both decided we liked Thailand and felt Bangkok was somewhere where we could live, so I accepted the job. We returned to Australia and within six weeks we had packed our bags and moved ourselves to Bangkok. There was no brand of The Coffee club in Thailand when I arrived so it was going to be my job to launch the brand here.
We opened our first store here in Phuket at Turtle Village, Mai Khao beach in 2009.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT BEHIND THE COFFEE CLUB?
The main thing we try to achieve with The Coffee Club is a relaxed environment. However, one of our buzz phrases we have been using recently is “lifestyle dining”. When people visit one of our branches there are no rules or restrictions as to what you can eat or when. We offer all day breakfasts and we offer alcohol. If people want to eat pad thai for breakfast they can. The idea is to make things as simple as possible for the consumer. In my personal opinion, as a consumer, nowadays it is getting harder and harder to have what you want when you want. So my philosophy is the easier you make the environment for the consumer the more they are going to want to come back. We offer such
a large choice on our menu, coffees and cakes, pastries, chicken dishes, fish dishes, pasta and Thai food. In saying we want to be lifestyle, we are
open from 8am until 12pm and we have a menu that offers something for anytime during that period.
IS IT THE SAME CONCEPT WITHIN EACH BRANCH?
The concept is fairly consistent throughout all of the branches. The only one that is a little outside of this concept is our branch at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Here it is designed for speed, so it’s a grab and go concept because everybody there is in a hurry. If I had 10 baht for every customer I spoke to who told me they had a plane to catch I would be a rich man. The menu is a lot more limited there too.
HOW DOES COFFEE CLUB DIFFER FROM OTHER COFFEE HOUSES?
Like I said before it’s all about the lifestyle option of having what you want, when you want it. If you compare us purely to our coffee competitors, you cannot fault what they have done for building the coffee profile here in Thailand, but I seriously think we offer a much better product. At the same time, our point of difference is we offer the extensive food menu. When you talk about restaurant cafe concepts like Black Canyon, I guess we are a lot more modern than they are and I seriously feel our quality of food is a lot better than theirs too. Our focus is a lot more on the western food than the Thai food and theirs is the other way around. But that said, we do take our Thai food very seriously, the Thai food has been designed by Thai chefs and it is all Thai chefs working in the kitchen.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE BRANCH LOCATION IN THAILAND AND WHY?
To be honest I have to say that where we sit now in our Jungceylon branch is probably my favourite location out of all of them in Thailand. I think it’s because you can sit here and see what’s going on outside, it’s a great place for people watching. I don’t like to be biased but I also think it’s because a lot of the customers we have here are Australian, sometimes I think I’m sitting in Brisbane with the amount that are here. It’s also nice because they want to come and talk to you being a fellow Aussie, they want to come and know what you’re doing here and want to know your story. If you’re getting a little home sick it’s always a good cure to come and sit and talk to a few fellow Australians.
HAVE YOU REACHED YOUR TARGET OF SEVEN BRANCHES TO BE OPEN BY END 2010?
Unfortunately, we didn’t quite reach that target; we managed to open five branches by the end of last year. Our target now is to open five new branches by the end of 2011. We are already looking at locations at Kata and Karon here in
Phuket, we are looking at another 2 locations in Pattaya and then we’ve got two locations in Bangkok that we are
looking at as well. The strategy for launching the brand in Thailand is primarily to look at the tourist locations first; we
really want to get the brand recognition before we try to get the Thai customers so we have to choose carefully the right locations in Bangkok. Bangkok is a real fickle market and you see so many restaurants come and go because they don’t understand the market and they don’t listen to the consumer. We are a big company and we have the experience. I think that with Bangkok we will probably be looking at the Sukhumvit area and there is one location we are negotiating on at the moment. So watch this space.
Actually last year we took one of our baristas to Australia for The Coffee Clubs International Barista of the Year
Championship. He was a guy from Chiang Mai who came to Phuket to work for us here at the store and we trained him
and he has now been with us for two years. I knew as soon as saw him work that he was talented and I thought if we
take him and he can hold his nerve on the day, and not get to nervous in the competition surroundings, then he had a
good chance of winning. Sometimes I’ve seen with staff that when there is pressure they would rather take a step
backwards than forwards, but we really encouraged him and he actually went on to win the competition. For us that was amazing and for the people from Australia and New Zealand it was even more amazing. I don’t think they could believe that we had only been open for a year and a half and the very first barista we brought to the competition blew them away. So saying that I think our aim is to go back to Australia and repeat that. So I hope he will go back and defend his title and hopefully we can take one more barista from here with him. It’s a great opportunity for someone from Thailand to go and visit another country as it is something they cannot do so easily. It’s also a good story for recruiting staff and giving them s great objective when they come to work for us.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN HIRING STAFF FOR YOUR BRANCHES?
Really the most important factor for us is personality. The skills they will require can easily be trained to them. Some of the best baristas we have had had no experience at all at making coffee. Unfortunately, if we have people that come from other coffee brands they seem to think they know everything there is to know about making coffee, this can bring a bit of a challenge. They need to have a reasonably good level of English and in a tourist location I think it’s critical they have this as customers, although on holiday, get frustrated very easily and they often take this out on the staff. This is something that really bothers me and I would rather not employ someone who has little knowledge of English, not because I don’t want to, I do it for them because if customers end up yelling at them because they don’t understand them they are not going to be happy and will end up leaving the job anyway.
DO YOU PLAN TO OPEN ANY MORE BRANCHES IN PHUKET, IF YES WHERE?
Like I’ve already mentioned, we will definitely look at the Southern end of the island, when we’ve got a little bit of critical mass we will possibly look central and with regards to the North, possibly around the Chengtalay area. I think there would be a good opportunity in this area because the expat crowd that are there tend to stay around that area and I don’t feel they would travel out just to come to The Coffee Club. However, if they had something there I’m sure they would fit us into their routine. If you haven’t already visited The Coffee Club here in Phuket, next time you’re in Patong or Mai Khao beach please look out for them and stop and have a look at what’s on offer. There really is something for everyone and the quality is a cut above the rest. Look out for new branches opening soon!!