Peddling black gold as a Coffee-Bike franchisee

After leaving a job he hated, becoming one of the UK's first Coffee-Bike franchisees enabled Mark Price to reclaim his happiness

Peddling black gold as a Coffee-Bike franchisee

Ask Mark Price about what made him turn his hand to franchising and he won’t hold back. “I hated going to work,” says the franchisee of Coffee-Bike Worcester, the mobile coffee franchise. Even though he’d loved working in IT for about two decades, the feeling of being unappreciated had slowly festered. “I was putting in a lot of effort without getting anything back,” he says. “Worse, it was really starting to affect my personal life and my relationships. I was just becoming very irritated and angry.” Deciding to finally call it quits in December 2015, he handed in his notice and ventured onto the path that would see him becoming one of Coffee-Bike’s first UK franchisees.

However, the decision to buy a franchise didn’t come straight away. Instead, he first contemplated doing something with his passion for cycling. “I actually looked into buying a bike shop,” says Price. “But I ended up chatting with the owner of a store that was for sale and he really put me off it.” The owner told him that, much like Price, he’d been a huge cycling aficionado but that he had lost that enthusiasm throughout the years. “Now he just spent his days fixing crappy bikes,” says Price. “I could easily see that happening to me too.”

Wanting to avoid the same fate, he turned his hand to franchising and it’s easy to see what it was that attracted him to the model. “I wanted to be my own boss and to control my work-life balance,” Price says. “And franchising offers you all the tools you need to run a successful business.” In fact, he didn’t have to look too far for inspiration; growing up, Price had seen his stepfather running his own franchise. “He put a lot of hard work in but he also saw the rewards from it,” says Price. “So that’s another reason I wanted to go into franchising.”

And after a period of intense searching both online and offline, he found the right fit for him: Coffee-Bike. While success has been brewing for the German franchise since 2010 and now has franchisees on two continents, it only entered the British market in the first half of 2016. “But that was something that excited me,” says Price. “Sure, there were some risks attached to being one of the first franchisees in the UK. But at the same time I could see it was a real opportunity.” What’s more, the budding franchisee was also awestruck by the originality of the concept, its high-quality products and the equipment provided, not to mention the bike itself. However, in the end there was one thing above anything else that convinced Price that this was the way forward. “I really liked how passionate the franchisor was,” he says.

But being one of Coffee-Bike’s first franchisees on these shores didn’t come without challenges. “There were some small translation errors and misunderstandings in the franchisee agreement,” remembers Price. “But once we had discussed them with Coffee-Bike, they adjusted it and I signed the contract around April last year.” Another teething problem was that the franchisor hadn’t yet translated all of its online training material. So while new franchisees that join the network today get access to a fully operational training program before being trained on-site in Germany, Price had to prepare himself by reading a half-finished manuscript. In fact it was only after he’d actually been operating for about a month that Price went through the online training himself.

Having overcome these initial hurdles and gone through his franchisee training at the company’s headquarters in Osnabrück, Price was eager to kick off his franchising adventure for real. “I prepared by creating a calendar and putting in every local event – like markets and festivals – within 50 miles of Worcester,” says Price. He then began calling organisers to ensure that he could attend events with his shiny new bike. And these efforts really paid off when he finally rolled out his franchise at a local market on July 8 in 2016 and began serving up steaming mugs of espresso, cappuccino and hot chocolate to people passing by. The following weekend he did the same thing but also brought the bike to a local river festival where somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 people had a chance to see the new franchisee in action.

These first outings had an additional purpose beyond making Price money out of the hot drinks he sold: it allowed people to notice the bike. “People get excited about it,” says Price. “It’s a real attraction. It’s not like one of those vans that other chains have so event organisers really take notice.” This meant that in those first months when he kept going to markets and events, a buzz began to form around the company. “All the work I’ve had since has been because people have approached me and taken cards,” says Price. Before long his inbox was swelling with emails and his phone began ringing off the hook. In the nine months since he first set up shop, Price and his bike have not only attended markets and festivals but he has also poured lattes at school fun runs and weddings and has served up espresso martinis at luxurious birthday parties.

And the steady stream of business doesn’t show any sign of slowing. “I’ve got a full calendar until October,” says Price. “And I’ve also secured a couple of really big agreements.” One is with Shelsley Walsh, one of the oldest functioning motorsport venues in the world, which has given the franchisee the opportunity to become a staple at all of the venue’s events. He’s also working with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to set up his bike in the charity’s gardens throughout the summer. “To have secured just those two deals alone, even without accounting for anything else, it’s just amazing,” says Price.

In fact, he’s now so busy that he’s turning down a lot of work. But not one to let business opportunities slip through his fingers, Price is now considering expanding his operation. “I’ve spoken with Coffee-Bike about financing the purchase of another bike,” he says. However, the obstacle holding him back isn’t the price of the new equipment but the challenge of staffing it. “It’s very difficult to find someone who’s as passionate as I am,” he says.

And that enthusiasm has certainly stood him in good stead, especially considering where he was just over a year ago. “It couldn’t be further apart,” says Price. “On the business side I’m making a good turnover and from a personal perspective I’ve gone back to being the person I want to be: a happy, cheerful, social kind of guy. So yeah, it’s absolutely massive.”

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson