Keep the faith

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It has been one of the greatest growth stories in modern Australian franchising and even business generally. And one of the founders of Gloria Jean’s Coffees – a member of the Hillsong Church – claims his religious background had a lot to do with the vision and divine inspiration that created this success story.

Peter Irvine reveals in his book Win in Business what he thinks are “20 keys to catapult you towards your vision”. The book chronicles his experiences building the franchise system with his close friend and co-founder, Nabi Saleh.

Both are devout Christians, and in fact, Irvine not only admits to be inspired along the road to business success with Gloria Jean’s by the likes of business guru Peter Drucker, but also by the Bible’s proverbs and an array of ministers from his church.

For those who have missed it, the American-born coffee business, Gloria Jean’s, started in Australia in 1996 with a plan to open 25 stores over 10 years. In fact, they have more than 480 stores in Australia alone.

The growth momentum has been so powerful that in 2005 the Australian franchise bought the international brand except the US and Puerto Rico, but it delivers 15 countries and their stores.

(The original company was founded in the US by Gloria Jean Kvetko in 1979. It was never an outrageous success and the two Aussies who imported the business down under were big innovators from the original Kvetko concept.)

The company now has more than 1000 stores across 39 countries.

For the statistics collectors out there, the stores brew more than 3.5 million coffees per month. 

Irvine knows if they had listened to the experts their success would never have happened and he warns against established mindsets and negativity. Building a business on a person’s name and the name itself was not perceived by marketing people as great.

“When we started in Australia, people told us to change the name because it sounded more like a fashion store than a coffee retailer,” he says. “In any case, I have found that you can build a brand around a name. 

“When McDonald’s launched in Australia, no-one automatically associated the name with hamburgers.”

(In fact, Irvine was a part of the team at ad firm DDB Needham Advertising that launched McDonald’s in Australia in the 1970s.)

Mission control

The naysayers warned Irvine and Saleh that Australians would not embrace flavoured coffee or take away cups, but they had grasped an understanding of the market better than many of their rivals and the results prove it.

Irvine thinks that vision has been crucial to the success. When they kicked off the 25 stores, the vision was thought to be huge, so how did they end up with more than 480 stores locally?

The vision was the starting point. “Before we started Gloria Jean’s we wrote down our vision, mission and values for our company,” he explains. “Our vision was: to be the most respected and loved coffee company in Australia.”

When it comes to vision – the bigger the better – and Irvine thinks it releases resources to induce growth. And it is fuelled by the passion of the leader.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes in enthusiastically pursuing growth. 

“In the early days at Gloria Jean’s we were asked to invest in coffee carts – mobile coffee units with espresso facilities for hire at events,” Irvine recalls. “We later realised they were not a part of our core vision.”

However, the lesson was only learnt when problems arose concerning power, sourcing clean water, mobile fridge requirements and other challenges at outdoor events.

This innovation was at odds with the founders’ initial mission statement which read: “Gloria Jean’s Coffees is committed to building a unified family, consistently serving the highest quality coffee and providing personalised service in a vibrant store atmosphere.”

The vision and the systems that make it happen are two of the biggest assets of a franchise system, along with the people – company staff and franchisees and their employees. Blow this mix and you don’t see the kind of growth that this company has registered.

Divine intervention

American Verne Harnish, the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, thinks the selling of the vision is critical for growing a business.

“You need to market your firm to potential employees with the same vigour you use to attract customers,” he says.

Harnish and business thinkers like him advise that the leader’s vision is used to achieve alignment between what a leader dreams of and what the people who work with him – employees and franchisees – actually produce.

Cynics might snarl at religious, business high achievers thanking God or Allah for their success, but you can never underestimate the value of non-business forces in corporate success.

Business success is driven by many forces but a common characteristic is a leader’s belief in the vision and a near religious zeal to make it happen.

“Nabi and I had a dream for Gloria Jean’s Coffees 15 years ago that we followed together,” Irvine says. “We created our mission and vision statement and then got to work on our business plan. We are dedicated to building the company around family and family values. This passion is emulated across the company and franchisees on all levels and this is what is translated to our customers on a daily basis.

“Nabi always says, ‘You have to have a dream and it has to be bigger than yourself’, and this is where we strive with Gloria Jean’s Coffees every day.”

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