A Sheikh-tastic idea

A Sheikh-tastic idea

An unexpected visit by a thirsty member of the Qatari royal family couldn’t have gone more smoothly for the two former school friends behind London’s ShakeTastic, who have now officially opened their first franchise, in Doha, Qatar.

When a member of the Qatari royal family visited the ShakeTastic juice bar in Hamleys toy store on Regent Street, founders Josh Kettle and Amir Darabi had no idea their small chain of juice bars was about to join an elite list of British businesses setting up shop in the Middle East.

Franchising can provide a real opportunity for growth for small businesses, but it can also bring with it many challenges for those looking to branch out. According to the latest research by the British Franchise Association (BFA) and NatWest, franchising contributed £15.1bn to the UK economy last year alone, employing a total of 621,000 people.

The Franchise Survey 2015 also showed the number of franchisee-owned businesses topped 44,000 in 2015, over one-third of which are run from home. The performance of those businesses also set new milestones, with 97% reporting profitability and over half turning over in excess of £250,000, providing a major boost to the UK economy.

It also highlights how home-grown success is converting into export success: the research shows four out of every five brands in the UK are domestically owned, with 38% expanding their business model overseas and a further 11% considering doing so in the future, and ShakeTastic is a prime example.

Up until the beginning of 2016, all of ShakeTastic’s bars were in the South of England. Now, the London-based chain setup by former school friends and budding entrepreneurs Josh Kettle and Amir Darabi back in 2009 with a single outlet in Mill Hill, is the newest company to make the leap into the gulf, courtesy of their new Qatari business partner.

The multi award winning chain, which now employs 50 people, opened its doors in Qatar’s capital city of Doha in February. For the company, which began life in northwest London seven years ago, the move has been described as its biggest achievement yet.

Kettle, 36, said: “We were really excited to be approached by our Qatari partners. It’s our first franchise and our brand fits well with what our franchisees are after. It’s the biggest thing we’ve done as a company since opening our first bar in Mill Hill.

“We’re confident that in such a hot climate, non-alcoholic drinks which give customers the option of being super healthy or super indulgent will do well. Since opening in the middle of February we are really pleased with the response to the new bar in Doha and there are two more sites we are already looking at with our Qatari partners.

“It’s an exciting time for us as we’ll be working in a new cultural environment and serving and learning from a new customer base.”

The demand for British goods and services in Qatar provides a huge opportunity for businesses in the UK looking to expand overseas. According to the latest research by UKTI, the British expatriate population has grown from less than 1,500 in 1995 to over 20,000 today and this trend has been echoed by the number of businesses opening up shop in the Gulf state.

Darabi, 36, believes this growing appetite for British goods and services played a major role in Shaketastic expanding into Qatar. He said: “A Qatari Prince visited one of our bars and loved the brand and what we offered. Like many people from the Middle East, and the UAE in particular, Qataris have a real appetite for quality goods and services from Britain. Getting the store opened and up and running was a challenge but also a lot of fun.”

A similar experience has since led to a Saudi entrepreneur opening up a ShakeTastic franchise in late February in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Darabi added: “We should be opening in Jeddah within the next four weeks. The store has been fitted and we are in the process of organising training for our Saudi partner’s team.”

The duo wanted to ensure they had the right business partners before jumping into franchising. Having received offers when launching their first outlet in 2009, it has taken several years for them to make the leap.

“We waited for seven years before we decided to offer franchises,” said Kettle. “We wanted to learn, record and systemise the whole art of making and marketing fantastic shakes and smoothies.

“We were approached by people wanting a franchise within the first two weeks of our opening back in 2009 but we held off as we want to get franchisees that fit our strict criteria. We’re looking for suitable and capable people.”

Darabi added: “We now feel the time is right to expand and this year will see ShakeTastic franchise opportunities grow across the UK, as well as other international bars opening.”

BQ will continue to follow the ShakeTastic story as the company continues to grow.