Completely Retail first met the team at Zabardast when they presented at Soapbox which takes place at the Completely Retail Market Place events. The Soapbox platform allows emerging and independent businesses to pitch their businesses directly to landlords, fast forward four years and we are proud that Zabardast is thriving and sponsors of the lunch at the Completely Retail Market Place events.
CEO of Completely Retail Dom Millar caught up with the director of Zabardast, Neelofar Khan to discusses the challenges and highlights of owning and managing a F&B business.
Tell us a bit about the history of ZARBARDAST
Zabardast, which means awesome in Urdu, started in 2013 with a very simple mandate: to serve healthy homemade Indian food, quickly, with a smile. As founders, we come from a variety of professional backgrounds and wanted to provide the European market with a fresh idea of what it means to eat really good Indian food, without the stale image often associated with this cuisine.
The company has found its success through simplicity, standardisation and quality. We operate a hub and spoke model with a Central Production Unit and cater to different dietary requirements – vegetarian, vegan, halal, gluten free, etc. Having started with one ‘A1’ unit in 2013, we have now opened our seventh, company owned store, in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent.
Part of expansion strategy is opening new stores by collaborating with development partners in addition to opening corporate stores.
How do you find new premises, investigate new towns and territories? What specifically do you look for, what’s important?
We started visiting CRMP in 2015 at Old Billingsgate, which gave us the breakthrough we were looking for. Being free for operators really helped us as an emerging brand to participate in this prestigious deal-making event. It gave us access to landlords and agents. Prior to this, it was difficult for us to get through to the right people within the property world.
Initially, we sought office-based, large footfall locations, focusing on the lunch-time market. Then, gradually we started looking at the combination of both office and residential areas. Following that we went for shopping centres given the CAPEX is higher in these locations.
In terms of what’s important to us regarding locations, firstly, from an operational perspective, we look to have the new locations within 1.5 hour drive of our Central Kitchens Secondly, as we are still a young brand, it is important to us that a landlord understands our brand and has bought into the concept so they can provide appropriate guidance and support.
Have you / do you use agents to help you identify new locations, find new premises, negotiate with landlords and expand internationally?
As we have been visiting CRMP, we have not had to retain any agents. Through Zabardast sponsoring lunch at CRMP, we’ve been able to bring the brand directly to the right audience. Another way in which we have gained exposure of the brand is through using the ‘Soapbox’ at CRMP. Consequently, we have been offered great locations through these events. We’ve also visited the Nordics and Benelux with CRMP and presented the Zabardast brand and concept on the ‘Soapbox’ there. The CRMP events provide the perfect platform for networking and giving exposure to Zabardast both nationally and internationally.
Have you made any mistakes, and if so, what lessons did you learn?
In our initial years, we negotiated a deal on a small property but unfortunately did not provide for a break clause in our contract. We have now outgrown those premises and will eventually assign the lease when we are ready to vacate it. Naturally, it would have been better if we had included a break clause but we’ve learnt from that and now include this in all our leases.
In your experience how much help have you received from landlords? What things do you need to look out for when negotiating a lease? What have been the major headaches and surprises? How can landlords help more brands like ZABARDAST to prosper?
In our experience, landlords and large institutions are under a lot of pressure to just get deals done, without investing in a continued meaningful relationship with the lessee. It is only recently that landlords have started engaging with smaller brands, now that ‘food has become the new fashion’.
To help more brands like Zabardast prosper, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between the asset manager and the business, with each side understanding each other’s priorities. Practically, agreeing things such as a break clause, monthly rentals and a rent-free period would all be beneficial. In addition, by sharing the risks through turnover related deals only, for example, landlords contributing to capitals costs and recovering these through a higher monthly percentage turnover related rent, all sides can win.
Ultimately, landlords thinking outside the box, for example by taking on a franchise, would allow for sites to be opened immediately up and down the country. Again, a win-win situation for all.
What barriers have you found for expansion both within the UK and internationally?
The biggest inhibitor to our growth in the UK is escalating costs in the form of wages, pensions, VAT, Business Rates, supplies… the list goes on…! BREXIT uncertainty has also halted investments. Additionally, we face staff issues in particular – there is a lack of skilled individuals motivated to work in the F&B sector.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey?
The most rewarding part of our journey has been seeing the growth of the brand and on the way, meeting individuals who have each shared their personal stories and challenges with me. Mentoring and training staff members, personally and professionally, has been incredibly rewarding and has allowed us to build a strong team.
With everything you have learned, what three pieces of advice would you give someone just about to take their first lease…
- Make sure the concept is really tried and tested and opt for a low risk location first.
- Do the sums and business plan covering rents, rates, fitout costs etc, again and again.
- Have a break clause after 3 years.
- Business is tiring so make sure first lease is as close to home as possible!
- Attend relevant networking events to gather information.
The company has found its success through simplicity, standardisation and quality.Neelofar Khan Zabardast