Since acquiring the Michel’s Patisserie franchise in Toronto, NSW, ten years ago, Greg Stevens and his wife Annie Li have been showcasing retail excellence. The multiple-time National Retail Award recipients will this August be retiring, and we wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate them both on their many successes over the past decade.
Greg and Annie’s list of awards is a lengthy one. In 2016, the pair took the title of Franchisee of the Year and the Supreme Award for Retailer of the Year. Then in 2019, they reclaimed the title of Franchisee of the Year. These accolades followed their success at the 2016 Hunter Business Chamber Awards for Excellence where they won for Best Customer Service; and their win at 2015’s Lake Macquarie Business Excellence Awards where they won for Best Retail Practices.
Over their eventful decade in retail, they hosted notable guests at their Michel’s Patisserie store, including former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Executive Chairman of Retail Food Group, Peter George. Additionally, their business has been featured three times on Channel 7’s The Franchise Show.
Greg has spoken to us about his retail journey and what’s next.
Where did your retail journey begin?
Our retail journey began in 2012, after Annie had worked 20 years as a Senior IT Consultant, and I had worked 15 years working in Financial Markets and 21 years in retail banking. I retired by choice from my last position as a Chief Executive of a Credit Union. We both wanted to run a small business together, and we decided on a franchised café. We selected Michel’s Patisserie, because we were very familiar with the brand. We didn’t want to open a new business, but we decided to purchase an under-performing business, with opportunities on the upside. After reviewing a number of locations, we settled on Toronto, because of the store’s location in an open air shopping centre and the area’s demographics and surrounding businesses.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far owning Michel’s Patisserie, and how did you overcome this challenge?
Our biggest challenge to date was the negativity surrounding our franchisor in the market. The negative press coverage filtered down to our customers, some relating it to the quality of our goods. We moved to frozen cakes from fresh cakes and fielded questions about the viability of our brand and franchisees, with many Michel’s Patisserie franchisees going out of business and closing their doors.
We overcame these challenges by focusing on the “Unique Selling Point” of the business, which is the two of us and our staff. We were ingrained in our community, so we increased our involvement by attending more local events, sometimes in uniform on work days to align our faces with our business. We were showing the community we are still around and thriving! We kept providing our biggest strength – our engaging service with our customers. We also provided our customers with honest responses to the tough questions, like the difference between fresh and frozen cakes, based on the ingredients and freezing process. We aimed to continue to go above and beyond our customers’ expectations and serve consistently prepared quality products. One of our key strengths is our coffee and word of mouth bringing in new customers, plus our Value Combination Deals, retaining customers’ loyalty to our business.
Additionally, we have introduced a more attractive online presence on social media, to attract online business!
What is the best part about being in the retail industry?
The ongoing satisfaction of delighting our customers with great products and services. We engage in caring conversations and remember people’s names, orders and key milestones in their lives and ask about their holidays and special occasions! This includes our staff following our lead.
As a community what do you believe retail can do to grow and overcome the adversities the industry currently face?
You need to stay positive, relevant and address customers’ current and changing needs. Plan both products and services to meet today’s consumer requirements in a time poor and busy world. We also aim to provide value and competitive prices to retain and increase our share of the customers’ wallet in tight economic times, where a reasonable number of consumers disposable incomes and job security have reduced.
What’s next for you both?
In addition to running the franchise, I have also been in the banking industry for over 40 years full-time and I am currently the Chairman of Australian Mutuals History. I’ll relish the extra time to relax – after all, I’m 65 this year!
We wish Greg and Annie all the best with their future endeavours.
The National Retail Awards are currently open for entry. If you have an excellent story to share, just like Greg and Anne, enter before 22 July at https://nationalretailawards.com.au.