With the right approach and an effective business strategy, crêpes translate into a tasty snack in any language
By rights, you can’t help but feel that dwelling somewhere behind a company selling crêpes should be a floppy white hat and a hackneyed French accent. Fortunately, life has little room for such narrative convention; rather than the gourmet of cliché, the creative drive behind Crêpeaffaire comes from an experienced business mind. “My background is very corporate,” says founder and managing director Daniel Spinath. Having worked in banking consultancy, an international role with Procter & Gamble, as a general manager at Heinz and a board director for Eurotunnel, Spinath certainly knows a thing or two about big business. “I lived and worked in nine different countries until early 2000 when I said, ‘This is the time for me to take my corporate learning but do something myself’,” he explains.
Crêpeaffaire was in part inspired when Spinath realised that crêpes hadn’t ever received this sort of professional treatment. “You’d associate crêpes a lot more with little stands with Nutella than with a branded, systematic business,” he says. Essentially, Spinath’s vision has been to build an effective model and brand around a fast food product but one that doesn’t come with the perceived negatives often attached to fast food. He draws comparisons to the familiar high street brands Wagamama and Yo! Sushi. “You take a product like noodles or sushi that originally were run by independents and basically brand it,” he says. “At the outset the idea was create a concept, rather than just a product, that can be scaled and have international potential.”
Which is easier said than done. Building an effective understanding of a relatively untested product is far from easy and requires a good deal of knowledge about the market you’re intending to enter. “I did quite a bit of qualitative and quantitative research about how people perceive a product like this,” explains Spinath. “But research has to stop at some point.” Eventually, it becomes necessary to enter into the situation and test things out in what Spinath dubs a ‘live laboratory’. And so Crêpeaffaire started as a single location in Hammersmith. He continues: “We looked at what worked and didn’t work, rectified what didn’t work and built on what does, and then expanded into the right locations.”
This organic method of development has very much been a cornerstone of the Crêpeaffaire strategy. Spinath feels that going for seed funding just isn’t feasible for a venture without a tried and tested model and therefore a much more incremental finance strategy is required. “You start with one shop, see how it works and, initially, fund your new sites organically by cashflow from the previous sites,” he explains. This not only helped keep the business growing in a natural way but it has also helped iron out wrinkles in the overall model in a live situation.
“We’ve learned what works, we’ve learned what doesn’t work, we’ve made our mistakes – we have enough confidence and enough experience now to say we understand what works and what doesn’t,” he remarks. “Now it makes sense, with proof of concept, to scale it.”
And, of course, one of the forms this takes is franchising. Spinath is keen to stress that franchising is far from the only string to Crêpeaffaire’s bow; at its core, the fast food outlet is very much a corporate venture. “If you have a proven concept, you’d rather operate that yourself and reap the benefits,” he says. But he acknowledges that brand presence is a vital resource for any food outlet and franchising is a useful tool to ensure that a brand is able to occupy that space in the consumer’s mind. “It’s about having storefronts, having a marketing presence in different parts of the country and sometimes the most efficient way to supplement that is by means of franchising,” he says.
But the Crêpeaffaire franchising strategy is atypical to say the least and amongst their current franchisees, it can count a large-scale, multi-billion dollar corporation. “We’re looking at really qualified individuals who have the potential in the right areas to look at cluster development, rather than just single franchises,” Spinath explains. Key to its franchising method is area development, wherever possible signing deals that require the opening of a set number of stores within a fixed contract term.
While Crêpeaffaire has big plans on the home front, with a focused, London-centric expansion and an upcoming satellite outlet in Leeds offering a foothold for further development in the north, the enterprise also has designs on the international market, facilitated by the versatility of its product. A recent franchising deal is seeing the expansion of the business with a cluster focused on Greater Hamburg, but it’s not only the German palate that Spinath feels might have a partiality for the enterprise’s product.
“By definition the food market is a multi-local market, where you have incredible differences from region to region,” he explains. But the key to Crêpeaffaire’s expansion plans lies in recognising that the crêpe has many analogues in different cultures. Outside of Europe, Spinath has identified the Middle-Eastern and East-Asian markets as having a particular cross-compatability. This multicultural approach is strongly reflected in the Crêpeaffaire menu, which features variations such as Thai or Mexican crêpes, and is something that has always been built into the nature of the product. “A crêpe is quite well known in different shapes and forms in different cultures; it really depends on what you put into it,” Spinath continues. “There is quite a bit of local adaptation possible with what we do.”
This is the real strength of the Crêpeaffaire approach; it has a firmly established model built around an incredibly flexible product. “The business, in terms of its branding, its service and its culture, is very fixed,” Spinath says. “Anywhere we do it, you have that same style.” But within that safety net is a high level of cultural adaptability. As Spinath concludes: “You know the crêpe will work – you just have to adjust to local tastes.”