Swapping expat life to serve up quintessentially British flavour with Beatons Tearooms

After years in the corporate world overseas, Patrick Duffy felt it was time for change. His return to the UK prompted him to do something quintessentially British and he launched Beatons Tearooms & Bookshop

Swapping expat life to serve up quintessentially British flavour with Beatons Tearooms

If you look up the definition of one extreme to the other, you may well find Patrick Duffy’s past and present career moves there. A seasoned executive within a corporate background, he had his fill of the industry and decided to bow out for something in the complete opposite direction. “I had years in corporate life, the latter part of which was living in Singapore for eight years,” he says. “I came back to my home village of Tisbury in the UK and wanted to do something very English, where I could walk to work and enjoy it, having had enough of corporate telecoms life. That really started me off on the route to a tearoom.”

With the business idea sorted, Duffy needed a name and one came to him quite naturally – Beatons, so called after Cecil Beaton, the society photographer, who used to live and work nearby. With the brand name Beatons Tearooms & Bookshop created, Duffy’s vision opened for business. Recalling that moment in 2010, Duffy claims it was phenomenal. “The population in Tisbury is around 2,500. We’re at the heart of the village physically and emotionally and have been very well received. The opening party had people flooding onto the street and it was a big celebration for the whole village,” he details.

It was an ideal outcome for Duffy as the goal of Beatons is to engage with the local community as opposed to out-of-towners, executing “gracious hospitality”. “We’re interested in the long-term, residential consumer base, we’re not focused on huge coach-loads of tourists,” Duffy says. And while the age of customers leans towards the older generation, he admits Beatons is increasingly appealing to younger consumers too. Explaining why he thinks that’s the case, he says: “You’re served at the table, which is different to high street coffee shops where you queue, stand there waiting for your order, then try to find a table. It’s very much more of an elegant service-orientated environment.”

For Duffy, his thought process in the beginning was simple – quit corporate life, launch in Tisbury, job done. He quickly had reason to change his mind. “The day we opened we didn’t have it down as getting bigger than one unit. Three weeks after that, we looked further afield as the success inspired franchising.” Believing that franchising was a good solution for a tearoom because franchisees could truly showcase their passion and enthusiasm through it, Duffy got the wheels of expansion in motion. “Because they’re involved in the success of the business, they can bring their personality to replicate the model,” he says.

There was a slow and steady approach to franchising rather than rushing in like a bull in a china shop. bfa consultants and advisors were used to produce a Beatons franchise manual in a process that took the better part of a year. “We decided to do it properly and didn’t hurry, so it was a safe process. We officially started marketing about two and a half years after opening the first store,” Duffy recalls. To be extra certain that everything would run smoothly, a company-owned franchise was opened in early 2014 to put the manual to the test, just before the arrival of an official franchise.

Discussing why he knew the first franchisee was right for Beatons, Duffy says: “The most important thing is that the franchisee themselves is the right person. They need to fall in love with what we’re doing. We’re not just about selling, it’s a matter of expanding the ethos of what we do.” In addition to mentality, the location of the business must be right, so Beatons has developed a tight specification of the desired territories. Rather than huge city centres where coffee shops sit on every corner, smaller market towns with specific population ranges are sought, in keeping with Duffy’s Tisbury branch, which has been able to thrive within the community.

In terms of marketing the debut franchise, the aim was to replicate the success of the first store. “One of the most important things is to get them off to a good footing,” Duffy says, explaining it’s key to capitalise on the launch and make an impact in the first weeks. Indeed, like the original entry into franchising, each Beatons franchise premiere is gradual. “For example, we have a soft opening initially. That’s followed by an elegant soiree for local invitees, which is 70 to 100 people invited to a champagne-style party,” he says.”

Ensuring each franchise is an embedded and invested part of the community even further, each franchisee nominates a charity that they’ll support, which lasts for a year before selecting another for the next 12 months. That social enterprise aspect of the business includes an open house event to raise awareness. “The launch process is something we hope the franchisee can find as enjoyable as possible, rather than stressful,” Duffy insists. As part of that charitable collaboration, certain menu items cost more than others but it means the extra fee goes to the local charity, with matched donations from Beatons. Some of the organisations supported include Helping Older People, an elderly care group, Julia’s House, a children’s hospice, and FitzRoy, a learning disabilities charity.

On his franchising journey, Duffy came to learn that franchisees need support to get to where they need to be, which was a crucial part of developing the model. “The first month of operation is probably the most stressful moment of their entire life,” he says. “As a result we now put a manager in place to sit alongside the franchisee for the first month to help them get through and remain sane in the process.” With each franchisee unique in terms of their needs, as some require more help and others less, a system has been put in place to ensure every franchisee in the network follows the procedure. Even the original Beatons owned by Duffy follows the manual thoroughly.

Offering insights as to just how comprehensive the support is, Duffy says: “We assume the franchisee has no experience in the industry at all. And we’re comfortable with that. We provide everything from details on cooking and the kitchen, front of house services, back office, bookkeeping and payroll. It really is a beginning to end range of covering every aspect,” he says. That means before franchisees get running at their own branches, they do a couple of weeks of training at an existing unit. Of course, the other component of Beatons is the bookshop. And while it has smaller turnover than the tearoom, it allows stores to connect with customers and champion local writers, switching off from devices for a spell.

With six stores open now and the hope that three to four franchisees will join each year, Duffy is keen to stay true to the company roots with sustainable growth to maintain the Beatons ethos. Looking ahead, he concludes: “The importance of eating establishments, or our place in particular, is having heart and a local connection, which will be increasingly important. Huge coffee chains with multiple places on the same high street are fine but we’re offering something unique – and the high street needs to differentiate to survive.””

Zen Terrelonge
Zen Terrelonge