There’s nothing like chatting over a cup of coffee.
And for Raj Beadle, coffee and community go together.
The managing director of coffee retailer and Gaggia coffee machine specialist Caffe Shop Ltd finds time in a busy working week to host a coffee morning from 10am to noon each Friday at the firm’s premises in Old Power Way at Lowfields Business Park, Elland. It’s a chance to meet with business associates, customers and anyone else who fancies popping in – a real cafe society.
Raj, who was born and raised in Sri Lanka before his business role brought him to Britain, is community-minded away from work, too.
He is a singing member of Gledholt Male Voice Choir and was its chairman for six years. As well as being first tenor, he takes charge of the choir’s website. Three members of staff at Caffe Shop Ltd are also in the choir.
He’s also an active member of Lindley Methodist Church, where he again handles the website and is helping with its current appeal to raise funds for a new porch.
A trustee of Huddersfield Methodist Mission, Raj is also a board member of Kirklees Music School, although makes no great claims to his talents as a guitarist and pianist.
He says: “I have always liked music and we always sang as a family and at school. And, of course we sing in church.
“As an outsider coming to this country, you don’t get involved with the local community unless you take part in these sort of things.”
Growing up in eastern Sri Lanka, Raj attended a Catholic Jesuit school before starting his career as a trainee accountant with Ernst & Young in Colombo.
He went on to work as an accountant for British company Platinum at its factory in Sri Lanka, which made pens for the UK and Far East markets.
Raj got his introduction to the coffee business when Platinum launched a homeware division in the 1980s and acquired a Gaggia coffee distributor in London. After working as a management accountant, Raj was appointed financial director for the division before becoming managing director in 1996.
Coming to the UK on business, he met and married Huddersfield-born Karen. The couple now live at Edgerton with children Katie, 18, and Michael 15.
In 2001, the Gaggia business became Gaggia UK and Raj became managing director with a minority stake.
However, there were turbulent times ahead. Electricals giant Philips took over the worlwide operation, but were not interested in acquiring Gaggia UK.
“I was caught in the middle trying to negotiate,” says Raj. “They decided to handle the UK distribution themselves and all the business we had developed had to go.”
Raj set up Caffe Shop Ltd to buy Gaggia’s UK shops and take on the coffee machine engineers who had been made redundant. “It was a very traumatic period for the staff as well as for me,” he says.
“We had been part of the division for a long time. The engineers had been with me for 20-odd years.”
Despite saving the business, Raj had to make redundancies among the 125 full-time and part-time staff as well as closing three of the six coffee shops.
“There were times when I thoght I would not be able to carry on,” he says. “The engineers and some of the other staf who had been trained to the job had no other work to go to and they were looking to me to do something. However, they believed in the brand and I made the decision for better or worse to carry on.”
One of the changes welcomed by the employees was a switch of premises.
Says Raj: “We were in a freezing old mill in Halifax. I had a visit from a chap who wanted to buy a coffee machine.
“As he walked out, he mentioned that he was a commercial property agent and that if we wanted, he could find us some better premises.”
The opportunity to move to Lowfields came up, but Raj wasn’t initially convinced.
“I wasn’t going to move because the premises were bigger than we wanted,” he recalls. “But I made the decision to come here because it was a good location close to the motorway.
“In the first couple of years, we were trying to build and rebuild relationships with new people and with Gaggia in Italy. We stuck to the things we knew – selling, repairing and servicing coffe machines – and we were innovative in trying to capture market share.”
New ideas included setting up Caffe Club with one-year free membership for customers – offering them the chance to train as a barista and benefit from an accessory kit, free telephone advice and discounts on parts, servicing and repairs – as well as coffee.
Raj believes the strategy is working. The firm is now official UK distributor for Gaggia domestic machines and Gaggia coffee.
It also sells to the commercial markets – with Pizza Express and Carluccio’s among the restaurants and coffee shops to take its products.
It also has three of its own coffee shops at Castleford, Northampton and Braintree in Essex.
The company also has a mobile coffee business, Go Go Gaggia, which operates as a franchise taking Gaggia coffee to commuters and staff at industrial estates and business parks in Huddersfield, Halifax, Wetherby and Glossop.
Go Go Gaggia’s Smartcars in their eye-catching livery, also promotes the range of domestic machines at a variety of events.
Says Raj: “We have a massive opportunity, but also a massive challenge.
“There is a lot of competition, but there’s still a big market for ‘coffee culture’. London remains the biggest market and in many ways the rest of the country has yet to catch up.
“We still sell to places in London and we have a major opportunity in terms of distribution.”
The company now employs 19 people – nine of them at Elland. The team includes six engineers, two of whom man the customer helpline.
Raj’s business philosophy is simple. “You have to believe in what you are doing,” he says. “We have put a lot of our own resources into the business.
“You can’t just rely on getting money from the bank.”
Role: Managing director
Family: Married to Karen with children Katie, 18, and Michael, 15
Holidays: I love going to Florida or back to sunny Sri Lanka
Car: Renault Megane
First job: Trainee accountant with Ernst & Young.
Best thing about the job? I enjoy meeting people. I also hold a coffee morning each Friday which is my “chill time”
Worst thing about the job? I find it difficult making time to do the paperwork
Business tip: You have to believe in what you are doing. Be honest and hard working
Work: Coffee retailer and specialist in supplying, servicing and repairing Gaggia coffee machines
Site: Old Power Way, Lowfields Business Park, Elland
Phone: 01422 372554
Web: www. caffeshops.co.uk
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