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The sky’s the limit: How Creams Cafè took on the pandemic and won

The sky’s the limit: How Creams Cafè took on the pandemic and won

Wednesday, June 09, 2021
Gigs Vasou

The pandemic presented serious challenges for all British businesses, especially those with brick-and-mortar locations. Yet, despite widespread hardships, there are success stories worth telling; stories that demonstrate how true enterprise-to-local strategies are more important than ever in our “new normal”.

So, we sat down with Marketing Director Lauren Haslewood and Digital Marketing Manager Joao Marques to find out how Creams Cafè pivoted to not only survive but thrive throughout the pandemic. This is what they revealed.

DAC: Lauren, Joao—thanks for joining! It’s safe to say that this last year has been a testing one; one full of pivoting, re-strategising, and adjusting to a new way of life. With everyone locked down at home for at least three-quarters of last year, how have you managed to stay ahead of the digital curve?

Lauren: Creams historically was always mainly a dine-in brand. We’re an experiential brand where these wild, flamboyant deserts are made to order and put in front of you. And so, when the national lockdown was announced, it was a huge shock to us. Ultimately, how do you get that experience across when we’re faced with only a delivery option? How do we bring that experience to life?

Taking you back a couple years, all of our business directors joined roughly at the same time, towards the end of 2019. And essentially, my team and I were brought in to oversee transformation within the business—including digital and delivery.

So, when lockdown hit, in some way, we were one step ahead because we were already pivoting the business towards a focus on our delivery channels. We had a look at everything, from our packaging to our online digital offering, the delivery menus themselves, and even started to create bespoke delivery-only offers and products.

Waffles and milkshakes at Creams Cafe

With the pandemic, specifically, we also wanted to find the best possible outcome for our franchisees, so thankfully our key suppliers were happy to look at contract terms with us. Ultimately, we are a franchise business—over 90% of Creams stores are franchise-owned—so it was important they were looked after.

In terms of other initiatives we introduced to further pivot the business, we quickly launched an online training platform, Creams Academy. The digital platform allows team members working in one of the Creams Cafès to enhance their skill sets by reducing prep time, cook time, driver wait time, the quality of product, and making sure everything was presented beautifully.

It really did cement a strong start for us in lockdown and was instrumental in growing our delivery sales. Our delivery sales went from being about 22% of the business to over 88% after the pandemic hit.

DAC: That’s absolutely incredible. You’ve been thorough here, Lauren, so going to try to make sure we touch on and expand on as much as we can… I’m really curious to learn more about your plans pre-pandemic because it sounds like you were already in that forward-thinking space.

Lauren: I think growth for Creams has been on the founders’ minds for some time, and they’re very involved in the business still to this day. The dessert-only sector has just seen phenomenal growth in the last few years, so having identified the opportunity for growth they brought in experts. So, for example, a key strategy was that an external board was hired that would consult. That, specifically, really helped to drive change within the business.

I was brought in as Marketing Director, a Procurement and Buying Director was hired, a legal team was created, and a new Commercial Ops Director and Finance Director was also recruited. Our small head office team which started off as around 25 people has over-doubled in size.

Desserts at Creams Cafe

We now have a Compliance Manager also, which I think is really important so that our franchisees are safe and operationally compliant. And perhaps, more excitingly, a Training and NPD Chef has been taken on, previously having worked with the likes of Tesco, to help us develop our new menu and innovative new products.

At the end of 2020 we also had a huge investment from Pistachio Holdings and their background is in franchise and food industry businesses so that really helped too. They own shares in a lot of other digital businesses, so they helped put us on the map digitally. We’ve really gone from strength to strength in the last two years!

DAC: Strength to strength sounds about right. I saw you achieved a record-breaking October—you hit £4m in sales and there was a 67% increase in delivery sales. Looking back, retrospectively, that was all before Lockdown 2.0. During this time, were your digital sales still producing most of your sales or did it revert to in-store revenue when you could open back up again?

Lauren: We have maintained our delivery sales. We didn’t see a massive drop-off when we reopened for dine-in. We’ve had amazing, record-breaking sales weeks, where we’ve been like, “Wow!” That was a massive accomplishment. A bit of insight, too: our average ticket increased quite dramatically from £11 to £13.50 delivery sales-wise. So much has happened that we honestly didn’t expect.

Joao: Just before I joined, Creams started to do more with their digital channels. They started optimising performance, they implemented a CRM, made changes to SEO optimise the website. Also, it became obvious that we had to adopt an omnichannel experience and do more with our Google searches, listing management, and targeting through social media advertising. Dealing with 90+ different stores on a franchise-model, it was clear that we had to have a centralised system to make sure this was happening. However, because of the huge growth we’ve experienced over these last three months, we know we will eventually need some more people on hand to help!

One thing I’m proud of is the content we’re rolling out too. We’ve put a massive effort into not just talking to our customers, but really engaging with our user base also. Our Instagram Reels have been really successful, and we’ve been sharing memes on our networks too. It’s not all about “food food food” all the time!

DAC: Joao, Lauren mentioned prior to jumping in today that you were spearheading Creams’ digital marketing efforts. Are you noticing any trends in the industry?

Joao: In the hospitality sector, specifically, I’m finding customer touch points a really interesting issue. In an ideal world, we would capture every single one from offline to online.

Desserts at Creams Cafe

Our most challenging one is getting to know our delivery customers more, typically because partners aren’t able to share that data, which is understandable. We’re seeing some improvement in that space though—for example, Nando’s integrating with Deliveroo—which is great news for the industry.

UberEats has also opened the doors of integration for online ordering on your own website, so this could lead to and opt-in for communications and CRM integration in the future.

Lauren: Exactly, and just following on from that point in terms of engaging with our customer base, we’re continuing that drive and thirst to know with one of our partners, Savanta, who have a brand-tracking tool that allows for a deeper insight.

DAC: I saw a recent report of theirs! You placed third for coffee, didn’t you, just behind Costa and Greggs as one of the UK’s most loved coffee brands. Congrats! That is a huge achievement.

Lauren: Exactly! So that’s been insightful for us, knowing that’s an area that we can now afford to focus on. So, for example, we’re now doing that wider-thinking of looking at delivery-focused coffee efforts too.

DAC: Joao, you mentioned a golden word just a moment ago that our agency is all about: omnichannel! It’s so vital that brands implement this to maximise their performance and the amount of custom they drive to their stores and online… True to Savanta’s report of being the most-loved dessert brand in the UK, I’ve found you’re always prominent in searches and that you’re ranking really well for the Holy Grail of Google search, the Local Pack. Are you making a concerted effort there?

Joao: Indeed. We have a keyword strategy in place. Ultimately, we know that 53% of all searches on Google last year were “near me” searches, so there has been some work from our side to make sure we’re at the top.

Also, on Google My Business listings and reviews, as a business we know that a difference in star rating of 0.1 can impact conversion by 25%, so we’re very aware that we need to reply to reviews as soon as possible too.

DAC: I think that just about wraps things up! Are you guys eager to get back into the office now things are a bit more normal here in the UK?

Lauren: Our office has been COVID-safe or “COVID-proofed” for a while, with desk dividers all set up. So, personally, I’ve been going in for a while anyway! I’ve had a bit more normality than most people. It’s nice because obviously it gives you that break from working from home away in a bedroom, but Joao…?

Joao: I’ve been going in every two days. When companies give that flexibility to people, it’s nice, because in my case, taking out the long commute can increase my productivity. If I have a short deadline, sometimes I like to get that done at home because I am in my zone. If we are brainstorming, though, it’s great to bounce ideas off each other in the office and share the creative thought process.

Lauren: And I think a lot of businesses mindsets are now warming to that—business hasn’t come to a dead-halt with people working from home. There’s benefits to both kinds of working, I think, and as Joao says, if there’s deadlines and you have to focus, it’s nice having that time at home where you might not be distracted by colleagues, for example.

This last year has been… different! And I think we’ll continually have to keep an eye on what’s happening, because certainly there’s been some instances where I thought, “Well, I didn’t expect that!”

Every success story starts with a single step

Our thanks to Lauren, Joao, and Creams Cafè itself. Their story shows how the right decisions—and the right overarching strategy—can soon lead to significant growth from the brand level down to hyperlocal moments.

Want to position your multilocation brand for similar success? Then it’s time to check in with our supremely talented team, whose enterprise-to-local expertise is simply unmatched. Let’s talk!


Gigs Vasou
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