Can you tell me about your career and how you came to be managing director at Heavenly Desserts?\u00a0\r\n\r\nWhen I left school at 16, I went to college and then went on to university, but decided that the academic route wasn\u2019t for me. I was always somebody who enjoyed working, so I dropped out of university and took up various retail customer service roles. I also had a short stint in the government working for the Department for Work and Pensions.\u00a0\r\n\r\nA theme within my career is that my roles prior to setting up the business were always customer-focused and front-facing roles. I had a very keen interest in that and a really good understanding of what makes a good customer experience.\u00a0\r\n\r\nI first set up and operated a QSR (quick service restaurant) franchise in the fried chicken space, which I did for about three to four years before getting involved with Heavenly Desserts. In its inception in 2008, my role within the company was always operational-based when we had our first few outlets, so running and overseeing, managing stores and branches from a recruitment, day-to-day running, operational perspective, as well as training and recruitment, etc.\u00a0\r\n\r\nAs the business grew, my role naturally transitioned into managing director, especially when we franchised the business. I do co-director business with my business partner, Muhammad Imran, but we both look after very different areas of the business.\r\n\r\nWhat does Heavenly Desserts offer that is different from its competitors?\u00a0\r\n\r\nThere are a lot of competitors, but when we started back in 2008, we hardly had any. Fast forward to 2022, the dessert restaurant sector has grown vastly, especially in the last five or six years. I think that what we offer in the Heavenly Desserts experience sets us apart from our competitors.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe find that our typical customers who are between the ages of 18 and 40 years old are looking for a quality experience and a venue where they can socialise at times up to late evenings, while still enjoying a nice ambiance, a really good quality product, really good customer service, all at a very affordable price point. What we do really well is that we\u2019ve got a menu that has a wide range of products that are not available at any other outlet. We've recently launched a new menu, where we now offer a dessert tapas, so a little bit of something for everybody to try. We're the first in the dessert sector in the UK to offer a dessert tapas and its additional pieces of offerings like that.\u00a0\r\n\r\nFrom our product range perspective, perhaps 50% of our menu now is made up of bespoke products that are made especially for us. What we offer that's different is a complete experience, like I said, at a very affordable price, but we also offer a product range, which customers can't have at any other dessert restaurant or caf\u00e9 in the UK.\r\n\r\nWhat is the group\u2019s strategy to cope with the energy and cost-of-living crisis?\u00a0\r\n\r\nLike any business, our focus is on ensuring that we control the costs within our business. As a franchised business, our sole aim is to support our franchisees to be able to do that. The biggest costs in F&B and hospitality are always food, and staffing; these are real key focuses for us. In the last six months, we introduced new tools for our franchisees to use to effectively staff their stores at the appropriate times, so that we have the right level of staff working at the right time, and they're able to assess what their staffing costs are on a daily basis.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe\u2019re also implementing a very clever stock inventory management system, which we're about to roll out imminently. This really smart and advanced system is an update from one we've used previously. Our focus over the next 12 months is to ensure that we're supporting our franchisees in utilising the tools that we've given them to ensure that they're able to really control the costs, and that we are operating financially efficiently within the business to get through the next 12 months of what appears to be a very difficult time for the industry.\u00a0\r\n\r\nI think secondary to that, guest experience still remains a big focus for us because while there are predictions that customer footfall numbers will drop as consumers continue to feel the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis, we want to ensure that we're heavily focused on a positive guest experience. We foresee that within our model, we will still see customers coming back through the doors quite regularly, because consumers still want to go out and socialise, and have a bit of downtime.\r\n\r\nWhat advice would you give smaller operators for weathering this difficult trading period?\u00a0\r\n\r\nI think the focus for any operator within hospitality currently needs to be the same. My advice to the smaller operators is the same and in line with what we're doing ourselves - evaluate your costs, look at your supply chain, see where you can make small, incremental savings across supply chains without compromising on quality of ingredients.\u00a0\r\n\r\nQuite often, smaller operators get complacent with the supply chain, so it's always good to reshuffle and take a fresh look at things because in the current climate, there will be manufacturers and suppliers who will also be facing the downturn in customers and they will also offer better prices to retain and bring in new customers. The operators need to take advantage of that, but again, I think the key focus is to look at costs so that they're able to control the business.\u00a0\r\n\r\nA lot of food operators have adopted \u2018order at table\u2019 set-ups, especially since Covid, which is helping from a staffing perspective also, given that recruitment is a challenge at the moment. I think it's more that operators really need to just take a fresh look at their models and have a look at what adjustments they can make where they're not compromising on quality and the experience of their guests, but perhaps allow them to operate slightly differently, and more efficiently.\r\n\r\nBesides recently opening your 50th site in Bath, does Heavenly Desserts have any future plans for growth?\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe're continuously growing. We've got plans to open 15 additional stores in the UK next year, so by the end of 2023. Our target is to reach 65 stores in the UK and 40% of that target has already been met. We've also got stores that we've completed leases on and will soon start getting built, which will then open throughout Q1 next year.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe still have a very healthy interest level, despite the talk of recession and we're still seeing a healthy appetite from investors, inquiring about our model. That's our plans for the UK.\u00a0\r\n\r\nWe're also opening our first international site in Canada towards the end of November and next year, we'll be opening our first store in the USA, as well as our first store in Pakistan. That\u2019s three new countries over the next 12 months, as well as plans to grow the UK estate by at least 15 stores. Although we've got a challenging time ahead, it's also a very exciting time for us.