John & Nina Gill of Albany Bakehouse
Kym recently sat down with good friends and clients Gilly and Nina, who own Albany Bakehouse, to discuss the journey that they have been on since opening the business in 2008. Since opening the bakery they have transformed the business while also taking some pretty big steps in their own lives, including getting married and starting a family. This article talks about what made them decide on this particular business, why they debadged from a franchise and what starting a family while owning your own business is like.
Why did you choose to open a bakery and why a franchise?
We had fallen in love with Albany and knew that this is where we wanted to live. When we moved here, we talked about what we wanted to do. We were both keen on starting our own business. We looked around for a few months then one day we were walking through Brooks Garden Shopping Centre (now Chester Pass Mall) and saw a Brumby’s advertisement that said, “Don’t walk past here in 12 months’ time and think that could have been me”. And it worked, we gave them a call to see what they had to say. The rep flew down the next day to have a chat with us.
The rep could have sold ice to an eskimo! He made it sound like a dream and we won’t deny that at the time we were a bit young and naïve about the situation. Gilly had previously done a few months bakery work and Nina had always worked around food so thought it would be perfect for us. The rep explained that because of how well they set you up and the manuals they provide, we could do it and we didn’t even necessarily need qualified bakers. They did come through with this, and that is why we would never regret opening up as a franchise to begin with. We had never owned our own business and for those first few years they really did help to set us up, mentor us and even helped negotiate with our suppliers and the shopping centre when we needed the help.
When we signed up for the franchise we did training at some other Brumby’s stores. That helped us a lot. The people who owned those stores also really helped us through our first few years and I don’t think we would have been able to get through those years without them. The other store owners gave us some really great ideas about how we could get through tough times by targeting customers directly and expanding our range to give people more options. That advice really helped to build our business and create a solid foundation.
So why did you debadge then?
During those first few years the assistance we were getting was well worth the franchise fees and other fees that we paid to come under their banner. But after a few years Brumby’s grew, they were bought out and we started to feel more and more like a number. It felt like the fees were getting higher and we were getting less from them. They also wanted to renegotiate our contract. When we read the new offer it seemed like they wanted to take a lot of control away from us which goes against the whole idea of owning your own business.
As we said before, we were very young when we opened initially. But when it came to signing this new contract, we felt we had had really grown as people and as business owners and we knew that the contract was just not right for us. We no longer needed that support and we had reached the point where we wanted it to be a bit more rewarding. That’s when we knew we had to look at whether there was any way we could leave the franchise but continue to run the bakery under our own banner.
We went back and forth with them. They were pushing us to either re-sign or walk away. That’s when we went to Dylan Parker at Mt Barker Legal. He was great. He was able to negotiate with them on our behalf. This was still a really stressful time for us. On top of that we had found out we were expecting a baby. We only came to a compromise with them just before we were due. It was the right decision for us. Not long after Emerson arrived, we closed for a week, refurbished and opened as Albany Bakehouse.
Now that you have been trading as Albany Bakehouse for almost a year now, what do you think? Have you noticed a difference?
Not any major changes. We still have a very similar customer base, we still offer a wide range for people and they still get their loyalty cards. I think that’s the benefit of having a business in a regional area. People are less worried about a particular brand. They are happy that they are still able to get great produce from their local shop and are able to continue to get the same great customer service where the staff know their names and want to know how they’re doing. It’s also brought a real sense of pride for us and our staff. We have been able to rebrand ourselves, select our own range of products and our bakers have been able to come up with some of their own products too.
How has it been becoming parents while owning your own business?
I think having the business is why we have only started a family in our 30’s. That business was our first child. We decided to hold off on starting our own family so that we could nurture the business and get it to a stage where we could step back a little and commit ourselves properly to becoming parents.
We had grown the business and worked hard for a long time. No one will work hard for you if you can’t show them that you are willing to work hard yourself. So we put in long hours, working 7 days a week for many years and along the way we built this strong team of staff. We could never have done this without our staff who stepped up when we had Emerson and even before that when we wanted to take holidays.
It was definitely an adjustment and we were never able to fully step away. Both of us were back to work in some capacity just days after Emerson was born but we have been able to be more flexible now about when we work. If we want to go in a bit later or start early so we can finish early, we are able to do that now. We also want to make sure we don’t miss this precious time with Emerson. This last year has been about finding that balance between continuing to grow the business and spending quality family time together.
Lastly, have you had any regrets?
There were times where we really questioned if this was the right thing for us, particularly in those first few years. Now I don’t think we would change a thing. We could sit back and say we could have done this or that, but you never know where that line of fate would have led you.
At the end of the day if we had changed anything back then we may not be where we are today. We have this beautiful little boy who we love, we are still happily married and are each other’s best friends and that business has been a big part of that.
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