Being a business owner requires courage, hard work and a strong passion for building relationships. This has never been more prevalent than in the hospitality industry, something Lisa Hepworth has learned since becoming the proud co-owner of Mowbrays.
Located in the heart of Haxey, North Lincolnshire, Mowbrays is a warm, welcoming, family-owned cafe that serves delicious food and drinks, most of which I fortunately got to enjoy while recording our latest #KnapChat instalment.
A quick look on the Mowbrays website will tell you that Lisa and her husband Ben bought the cafe on 1st December 2016, with the aim of transforming it into “the heartbeat of the community, where friends can gather for great food, great drink and conversation to match.”
From the moment I stepped through the doors, out of the relentless chill of winter, to be met by a hot cup of tea and a smiling Lisa, I felt the warm and welcoming nature promised on their website.
Two hours later, leaving with my stomach full of cake and my notebook jam-packed with notes, I can safely say their goal has been well-and-truly achieved.
KW: So Lisa, what made you decide to invest in the cafe?
Lisa: We wanted a family business; something that the kids could potentially be a part of. It’s something that’s both rewarding and challenging at the same time.
We’ve learned and developed a lot along the way and the business model is constantly changing. I want to do a great job for people and that drive to succeed and continue growing is what keeps me going.
KW: Since taking over Mowbrays, how have you marketed the business?
Lisa: Because of the local nature of my business, I knew that social media would be important. We’re active on Facebook and Instagram, two channels that have shown a clear return on investment when it comes to getting people through the door.
Our online presence is a story, it takes people on a journey about who we are, with content based around the team, what we’re selling and the local area.
Some of our demographic are not on the likes of Facebook and Instagram, so we also rely on print marketing (leaflets and newspaper/magazine advertising) too.
KW: Word of mouth marketing and reviews are obviously very important in the hospitality industry. How do you encourage customers to spread the good word?
Lisa: We invest a lot in the customer experience, talking to people and in a way becoming a part of their lives. For instance, we hosted a baby shower last year; now the baby comes into the cafe and sits in a high chair. We’ve also recently hosted a 70th birthday party; seeing people who’ve been friends for decades get together and celebrate is amazing.
It’s a big responsibility to provide the catering for such huge milestones in people’s lives, but being trusted to be a part of that experience makes you want to do a fantastic job.
Regardless of how busy we are, I’ll always try to spend time talking to customers, making sure everything is okay with their meal and asking them if there is anything we can do differently, their opinions matter to me. If someone has never been in before and they say “Wow that coffee was delicious”, I’ll give them a voucher and encourage them to come down and try a different one next time.
Sometimes, people are quick to go to the internet to share a bad experience, but not so much if they have a good one. Changing that is bigger than me, but this sort of interaction is a start.
KW: How do you make sure your social media presence reflects the friendly Mowbrays atmosphere?
Lisa: It’s a combination of online, offline and in person. It’s all-encompassing. Hopefully, our social media reflects the tone and experience customers get from speaking to me in person. Who I am is in the business and it’s critical that the social media, phone conversations and in-store experiences echo that.
It made me quite nervous giving that responsibility to someone else in my team but my employees know what my business is about. They know that anybody who walks through that door gets acknowledged, that we use their name if we can and know what they have to drink, for example. That’s the same online: if somebody makes a comment on one of our posts, the response time and how we reply is important.
KW: In addition to remembering a customer’s regular order, what else do you do to build relationships with visitors?
Lisa: It’s all about two-way communication. We care about our customers and know where they go on holiday, what days out they enjoy, their birthdays… Equally, they understand things about our lives. They’re intrigued to hear what my kids are up to and how they’re settling into school, how our staff are getting on at university and so on.
Our customers come to us because of that inclusivity and connection; I think many of them understand us and feel a part of who we are.
KW: How important is it to have independent, family-run businesses in smaller villages such as Haxey?
Lisa: Our business has grown because the local community has taken us under their wing; there’s something very special about that. If they didn’t like what we were doing, our business would have failed very quickly.
There are a lot of faceless businesses out there these days where you struggle to talk to an actual person. You have to go through automated services and forms, but I’d much rather have someone I can speak to; someone who understands me as a person rather than just a 35-year-old female living in Haxey.
You get people who come into Mowbrays every week for the same cake because they think it’s amazing. It sounds daft as it’s just a cake, but to us and them, it’s more than that.
KW: What’s surprised you the most since your Mowbrays journey began?
Lisa: The community and intimacy of it all. I’ve got friends who don’t know me as well as some of my customers know me.
I’ve had customers interrupt their own breakfast to get up and help me clear pots when it’s busy. Not because I’ve asked them to, of course, but because that’s who they are. They’re not going to let me struggle while they sip on a cup of coffee, regardless of the fact that I’m providing a service for them.
Similarly, if I’m finishing at 3 pm and a customer arrives at 2:59 pm asking for a coffee, I’m not going to close the door and walk away.
KW: How have you been able to build such a strong team at Mowbrays?
Lisa: It’s a case of learning, growing and adapting together towards a common goal. I wear my heart on my sleeve and the team understands how important Mowbrays is to me. They see my 8-year-old doing the washing up when it’s busy, and how I and my husband have grown as a team.
When hiring, it’s easy to see someone through their CV, but it’s through speaking to people that you truly learn about them. I’ve got former caterers, police officers and younger members who are just starting out in their careers.
I’ve worked for small companies in the past and I know how much the owner has put into the business. As a result, I did everything to make sure I didn’t let them down. My staff are the same: they know I’ve put my heart and soul into the business.
Relationships should be at the core of every business, but few more so than those that operate within the hospitality and service industry. In a world so heavily dominated by big corporate brands, building relationships is where wonderful, family-run cafes such as Mowbrays can thrive against the likes of Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
A connection occurs when people feel they are seen, heard and valued. Whether that’s in store or in the virtual coffee shops in which people are conversing online – the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Mowbrays make sure that everyone who walks through the door feels welcome and taken care of, and it’s this commitment to nurturing relationships that has convinced the local community to take them under its wing.
It’s crucial that companies take those 30 seconds out of washing the pots to speak to their customers, ask them what they want and become part of their lives. After all, those 30 seconds could be the difference between a single visit and a customer for life.
Enjoyed this #KnapChat? There’s plenty more where that came from! Download our FREE eBook to discover the 10 things we’ve learned about building relationships from speaking to our inspirational KnapChatters.
You can also explore some of our recent interviews below…