We opened our eighth site last weekend. We've opened sites before but this one was different. It was the first time we'd opened in a well established, large and well known retail scheme. The challenges and costs (time as well as cash) associated in opening were much greater than usual. But, the rewards should be greater too due. A destination location with a constant flow of potential customers.

Not only was it the first time we'd opened in a scheme like this, it was also a first for Gunwharf Quays. Their research said that customers were looking for more than the usual high street chain food and drink offering. As in many places, customers wanted to see more variety, they wanted to see more authenticity. What does that mean exactly and why did they choose us?

For us, authenticity means several things. Probably the most important is being independent. We're not beholden to the short-term interests of investors or the stock market. We can make longer-term decisions that are right for customers and our staff, that can secure and reinforce the business's DNA over the coming years (and yes, so that we can turn a profit too).

It means buying from good, local producers. A lot of companies say they do this but don't in practice. There's a good reason why they don't. It's hard and not always the most expedient way to create profit. So, we have to invest more time and sometimes spend more to make it work. In practice, this might mean having fewer deliveries than we'd like (and therefore buying more stock than we need in a week). Or, it might mean supporting with logistics - working out how they can get their products to us when we want them. Why do we bother? Because, we feel the rewards are there - better quality goods for our customers and better longer-term working relationships. As our business grows, theirs do too. It's a bit tougher on our own resources and can sometimes be frustrating. But, we feel it's worth it - for us, our suppliers and ultimately our customers.

It also means staying very close to the business. Of course, every business leader will say they're close to their business. But what they often mean, particularly large businesses, is that they know their numbers. They'll know how much money they took yesterday and they'll know the cost of their payroll. Of course, we know these things too. If we didn't, we wouldn't be around. But, they won't necessarily know which coffee beans make up their house blend, which of their cakes are gluten free, which of their suppliers launched a new product or which staff member is having a birthday tomorrow. These small things matter, increasingly so.

It can be difficult to quantify all this in a spreadsheet. But, they make the Real Eating Company what it is - independent and authentic - and we believe gives us a special pulling power with the wider public. Thank you to Gunwharf Quays for giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves alongside our high street competitors in such a competitive environment (and yes, we did spot the Caffe Nero suits inspecting our building works there).

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About Real Eating Company Cafes

The Real Eating Company was created by Helena Hudson in January 2004. Helena moved to the South coast in 2001 and spotted the potential for a high-quality British casual dining café concept in the South East.

Today, the Real Eating Company is a well-established business with seven sites across the South East. It is an entrepreneurially-minded business that is creating jobs for local people, sustaining local producers and most importantly, bringing great food and drink to its customers.

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