John joined COBS Bread in March 2003 after working at CBRE Ltd. as a Tenant Representation Specialist in the retail brokerage field for seven years. Prior to this, John worked in the UK for 10 years as Director of Acquisitions at Pizza Hut and other brand retailers providing him extensive retail experience. John has a BA Science in Environmental Economics from Trinity College, Dublin. During his time at COBS Bread, he has gained extensive experience in a broad range of roles including Franchising, Supply Chain Management, Finance and HR, and currently heads up these departments.
BeTheBoss: Tell us about the COBS concept.
John Gilson: COBS Bread is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bakers Delight in Australia, who have over 30 years of experience and over 700 bakeries worldwide, 89% of which are franchised.
We are all about fresh bread – we scratch bake using only high quality ingredients, with no additives or preservatives, and most unsold products left at the end of the day are donated to Charity. Our franchisees are the face of the business and they are the “local Baker” in each community.
BTB: How and when did you become involved with COBS?
JG: I have been involved with COBS from the beginning. Firstly, as a Real Estate Broker helping to identify sites. Then as the company grew I recognized that this concept and company was something I wanted to be involved with and when an opportunity presented itself in 2006 – I took it.
BTB: What was your background prior to joining COBS?
JG: Real Estate – Firstly with Pizza Hut in the UK, helping to grow that concept for 10 years, and then as a broker in Vancouver specializing in Tenant representation for smaller growing chains.
BTB: What are some of the advantages in being a COBS franchisee?
JG: Our systems and support are excellent and ensure as a franchisee you have the tools you need to manage and grow your business. In addition, our franchisees are very open with each other on financial information which creates great networking and at times, healthy internal competition.
BTB: Who is your ideal franchisee?
JG: Our ideal franchisee is a hands-on individual with strong people and training skills, superior customer service experience, and has a passion for producing great products everyday.
BTB: Tell us a little about the Food Industry?
JG: We are unique to the market, as we feel that nobody else is providing the array of products we carry including our traditional blocks, artisan products and sweet and savoury snack items. Our recipe book has over 250 different products and you will find at least 80 of these available daily at our bakeries. Our main competition is from supermarkets and we feel that because of the quality of our product and the great service we provide in-bakery, we have become the destination of preference for bread in the communities we are in.
BTB: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
JG: Firstly, don’t grow too quickly in the early years without having a solid foundation to build from. We made this mistake several years ago and found that our product quality and service suffered as a result. We addressed this and now feel we have the foundation and the experience to grow at a healthy level.
Secondly, take the time to ensure you select the right franchisees as it will build a stronger network. This may mean turning away candidates that are ready to move forward but are not the right fit longer term, it’s a better call and will save future headaches.
BTB: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
JG: Find your passion, do your research, talk with existing franchisees, do further research and when you are confident that you have found the right fit – take the plunge.
BTB: In your opinion, why do you think that COBS would be a great opportunity for someone?
JG: We are a growing franchise concept that has been around for years, with minimal competition. A passionate franchisee who applies themselves and owns the title of local baker within their community can build a long term successful business. It’s not for everyone, but for many, it’s a rewarding business.