From the top · 5 October 2017

He launched 90 Subway restaurants, but now it’s cold brew coffee for this entrepreneur

Josh Thompson cold brew coffee
Josh Thompson has swapped foot-long sandwiches for cold brew coffee

Despite being one of the first people to bring sandwich chain Subway to the UK, Josh Thompson was in need of a new challenge – so set up his own cold brew coffee brand.

The benefit of franchising is that you’re able to leverage the efforts of something pre-existing and grow your own part of that. Once credibility and market interest have been proven, there is the opportunity to buy into the concept and take it to new locations.

However, there is always the nagging sense that the brand you’re helping to build is not your own. No matter how far you’re able to take it, how much credit can ever be taken for success?

Subway Restaurant UK
Subway plans to have over 3,000 locations in the UK and Ireland by 2020

Josh Thompson had lived the franchisee business life for more than a decade, serving as a master franchise for Subway and opening 90 restaurants in the North of England. However, while it was always his plan to move on from it, his move into the world of coffee was more serendipity than strategy.

“I met someone with a children’s charity in Ethiopia who said they’d set up a green coffee export business – but hadn’t sold any,” he told Real Business.

“They asked if I was interested, so I went home and started looking into coffee. I just fell in love with it and knew what I wanted to do next was coffee.”

His bean-based adventure eventually transported him into the world of cold brew coffee, something that was taking off in North America but wasn’t as well known in the UK or Europe.

Point Black cold brew coffee
The branding reflects the simple nature of the product

“There was an emerging cold brew market in artisan coffee shops, but nothing commercial,” he said. “The biggest part of what we’ve had to do is the education piece – what is cold brew coffee?”

As many well-known entrepreneurs have done before him, Thompson got his hands dirty and began brewing up cold brew coffee from his kitchen – with help coming in the shape of his two year-old daughter. “It was about getting it cleaner and cleaner, before finding a receptive local brewery which set aside a corner of the site and provide equipment. Then we could make bigger batches.”

For someone who’s previous business involved a big menu and many different moving parts ingredient-wise, Thompson’s cold brew coffee brand, Point Blank, is incredibly simple. Shorn are the extra ingredients that go into other iced coffee offerings, his consists simply of coffee and water. However, to put its potency into context, a 250ml serving packs the same caffeine content as two cans of Red Bull or two double espressos.

Thompson wanted a product with no sugar, no fat, no additives or preservatives, and only one calorie. This, he believed, would allow his company to expand and target the sports and energy drink category.

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“We’ve been getting constant feedback on our product through our naturally-imposed incubation process. In trying to find out how to produce more, we’ve got massive market research by getting it out to people.

“Our efforts were slowed down as we couldn’t just go out to a local cold brew company and say ‘please make our brand’. Those were the days of making 200 litres at a time, and then bottling and labelling each item.”

Turbo charging cold brew coffee

After his “naturally imposed incubation process”, a neat term for describing a situation which others would be frustrated by, Thompson and the business have now secured funding to speed things up a little.

POINT BLANK JUNE 17 295265“As a natural progression of building production processes and getting that right, we’ve made lots of inroads with important people and strategic partners. Now we’ve got a core listing with a national wholesaler, in Bidfood UK, and have employed a PR firm to start building on the educational piece.”

With his business building momentum, we wanted to know if creating his own brand, rather than growing the Subway one, was different. Thompson described it as “more personal”, based on the product being something he made in the kitchen with his daughter. “People all over the world are trying it and complimenting it, which is insanely exciting,” he commented.

“The growth at Subway was passionate and a team effort, with others doing the same thing I was doing in the UK. This has been very much start from the ground and go up, so has a more personal feel to it.”

Despite staying in the food and drinks space, Thompson’s entrepreneurial journey has gone from one extreme to the other. With Subway, he had the support network of a multi-national a team of franchisees all busily working away behind the scenes. With Point Blank, Thompson is at the coal face and relying on all of his business nous to not only educate the British public about the benefits of cold brew coffee but also position his offering as the market leader. The gauntlet has very much been laid down.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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