Coffee shop targeting hat-trick after Project Warwickshire support
"It has been great to get to be able to access the free support and it will help us with our plans to grow further.”
A popular coffee shop in Alcester is in the running to complete a hat-trick of awards, having already been named the best in England – twice.
Louise Hanks launched The Lounge @ 26 with business partner Elizabeth French in November 2020, just as the second national Covid-19 lockdown began.
The High Street coffee shop has gone from strength to strength since, with its reputation for great coffee and a friendly atmosphere helping it win two prestigious national awards.
It was named Best Café in the country in England’s Business Awards 2021 and won the nation’s Best Eatery a year later, which has seen it automatically entered to compete in this year’s awards, with shortlisting in March and the winner announced later in the year.
Louise and Elizabeth, who also own The Lounge in Astwood Bank, are also looking to expand their offering after receiving business growth support from Project Warwickshire – a free recovery and growth business support programme to help companies in the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in the county, in the wake of the pandemic.
Project Warwickshire is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Warwickshire County Council, with support delivered by Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with Shakespeare’s England and Northern Warwickshire Tourism, on behalf of Warwickshire County Council.
Working with Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce business advisor Marie Stephenson, Louise was given one-to-one support and training to raise the coffee shop’s profile, with Marie providing a source of support to help the company to continue its growth through difficult trading conditions as the pandemic receded.
This included an in-depth target marketing exercise to understand the wants and needs of different customers groups, which fed into the development of a marketing strategy and content plan for the company’s social media pages, as well as advice on the launch of an upcoming website. A competitor analysis was also undertaken to compare themselves against similar businesses in different areas.
The Lounge is now adding to its offering by launching bottomless brunch one Sunday every month – starting March 5 – providing customers with a range of different flavoured Bellinis and a choice of delicious fluffy pancakes, tasty Belgian waffles or smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.
Louise, who was formerly Head of Sixth Form at Arrow Vale School, said: “It was really surreal to have won the awards, especially in our first year of business, we still cannot quite believe it. We’ve got a chance to complete the hat-trick and hopefully win another award this year so we are keeping our fingers crossed!
“It’s also a really exciting time for us at the moment as we are launching bottomless brunch which is something completely new for Alcester. We are always looking at trying new things. Last year we decided to open the coffee shop as a gin and cocktail bar on Friday and Saturday evenings and that has gone down really well.
“Looking at the business from a different perspective has helped too and I’ve really appreciated the support and advice from Marie on how to grow the business further. It has been great to get to be able to access the free support and it will help us with our plans to grow further.”
Marie added: “It’s been a privilege to help Louise and Elizabeth and provide a second set of eyes on their business plan and I enjoyed using my marketing background to help them prepare their marketing plans.
“They’ve made a real success of the coffee shop through their sheer hard work in difficult times. They spend a lot of time making sure people receive the same quality and experience which is obviously working as they have so many new and repeat customers.”
Warwickshire County Council's Portfolio Holder for Economy & Place, Cllr Martin Watson, said: “I am delighted that the Project Warwickshire support has been of such high value to Louise and Elizabeth. Running a successful small business is such an all-consuming affair that sometimes it really helps to get some detached, expert guidance - that is exactly what Project Warwickshire is designed to deliver.”
* To find out what other support is available to your business, please call CWLEP Growth Hub on 0300 060 3747