22/12/2005 - 13:06

Jesters Pies appoints CEO

22/12/2005 - 13:06


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Perth-founded Jesters Pies is pleased to announce the appointment of Doug Downer as its CEO.

Jesters Pies appoints CEO

Perth-founded Jesters Pies is pleased to announce the appointment of Doug Downer as its CEO.

Mr Downer, who will be based in Sydney for Jester's Pies which is now owned by Queensland-based Australian Agricultural Co Ltd, has extensive experience in major food franchising companies such as McDonalds, Muffin Break, Jamaica Blue and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Jesters.

AACo was run by Perth-raised Peter Holmes a Court when it bought Jesters in a bid to value add to its core beef farming business.

In 2004 Jesters took over NSW's famous Shakespeare Pies and is poised for substantial future growth throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Below is a longer statement about the appointment:

Jester's Pies is laughing after securing the services of Australian marketing and franchising expert, Mr Doug Downer, as its new Chief Executive Officer.

Mr Downer has extensive experience in the retail food industry and in particular, a highly successful track record in developing franchise businesses.

Jester's Pies' vision to expand interstate and internationally will significantly benefit from the guidance of Mr Downer. He says Jester's plans involve positive and achievable goals and he is delighted to be involved with the group.

Mr Downer's move to Jester's was a decision made largely because he wanted a new challenge, liked the team behind the Jester's brand, and he felt confident he was leaving his current place of employment with a great team at the helm, in a good financial position and still with potential to grow.

Mr Downer spent the first 14 years of his professional life working his way up the corporate ladder at McDonald's. During the last few years with the global giant he was responsible for the training and development function and worked closely with the corporate stores and franchisees alike.

From there he moved to the Foodco Group (incorporating the Jamaica Blue cafe and Muffin Break brands) where he was integral to the success of its franchise expansion.

This was at a time, the late 1990s, when the coffee culture was just taking off in Australia. People were discovering the pleasures of meeting for a coffee to do business. The Foodco Group created its own coffee company and drove it forward, riding high on the success of being among the first retailers to specialize in stand alone coffee and cake - as something more than just something you had at the end of lunch or dinner. The market expanded phenomenally and the cafe became the meeting place of the new millennium.

One of the most significant changes that Mr Downer instituted at Muffin Break was to bring the marketing and training and development functions in-house. His desire was to create a unified team that would work to the benefit of each of the franchisees as well as the franchise as a whole. A focus on same store growth rather than new store growth and ensuring profitability for the franchisees, was key to its success.

The Muffin Break business model for franchisees was so sound that the business grew quickly and strongly and continues to grow and assume a large proportion of market share today.

Mr Downer firmly believes that developing the system; getting good managers, a strong team, coupled with the great product, all helped grow Muffin Break from its introduction to Australia as a small business from Canada in 1989 to the internationally successful brand making its mark now in the UK, New Zealand and Dubai.

Mr Downer's expertise in developing franchise models and taking them offshore is reaping rewards also for Jamaica Blue with coffee outlets popping up in Shanghai, Kuwait, and Taipei.

While Mr Downer's franchising experience has been all good news, there has been an abundance of negative press in the last six to 12 months about some of the less successful franchising enterprises.

Mr Downer, believes this has been damaging to franchising in general but is not a true reflection on the whole franchising market saying there are many success stories in the market, and that the failed franchises tend to have common inherent weaknesses.

He believes that essentially the pioneers of a niche market franchise seem to enjoy greater success than the 'followers'. For example the juice market suddenly exploded, and leaders in the field such as Boost, who had a solid business plan born out of extensive research, emerging health trends, hard work and a great idea, flourished. This is an example of a franchise that continues to go from strength to strength, leaving many similar competitors in its wake.

Another reason Mr Downer gives for the failure of some franchises is that the banks in his opinion have made lending too easy. Business owners need to ensure they are not over geared and can service their debt. Having the money is only a small part of what it takes. Not enough thought goes into purchasing the 'right' kind of business (which Downer says needs to match your personality) and not enough research goes into what is involved in owning a franchise.

In some cases he believes there is not enough support provided by the lessors. Accepting new concepts into the market and driving up rentals has seen rental occupancy costs increase by over 30% in the past 5 years to levels that are unsustainable. This has resulted in business owners not being able to service their debt and get a fair return on their investments, in some cases franchisees have lost everything. The lessors, he claims, have a lot to answer for in some of the more recent franchise collapses.

Despite huge growth in the number of franchised business over the last decade, Mr Downer doesn't think the bubble has burst or is likely to in the immediate future. Conversely, he believes there is room for more in the market and certainly for greater success, provided potential franchisees align themselves with a reputable franchisor with a good business plan.

Flexibility to move with an ever-changing market is important too, says Downer. A prime example of this is McDonalds, who after a tidal wave of negative press surrounding the documentary 'Supersize Me' and other editorial pieces emphasizing the retailer's role in contributing to childhood obesity, saw an immediate need to reinvent itself. After a significant image overhaul of not just its food, but its premises and its community involvement, McDonalds now offers reduced fat options, salads and other alternatives to its high fat and high calorie meals in new modern, funky restaurants. Another fast food giant, KFC, enjoyed high brand awareness for decades as Kentucky Fried Chicken then switched to its less fatty sounding acronym - KFC - to avoid an association with all things horrifically calorific.

Nutrition is paramount in the current fast food climate and Jesters is committed to incorporating this into its ongoing product development. There is a perception in people's minds that pies are bad for you, and Jester's is keen to promote the facts about its pies which they firmly believe are a class above the rest.

Fresh raw ingredients, lean meat, grain-fed chicken, 100% breast meat, are what make up Jesters Pies and with less than 5 grams of fat in each pie it is easy to see why the Heart Foundation has given Jesters products its tick of approval.

Downer and Jesters will continue to look at product development with options such as organic produce and 'super foods'. Their goal with public perception is that ultimately the name Jesters Pies will be synonymous with quality pies.

If Downer has any advice to impart to potential franchise investors it is to do their research and know their stuff before buying into any business. Some people fall in love with the idea of running a business for reasons such as wanting to 'escape' the job they're in or work fewer hours. The key determinant in success, he stresses, is hard work. And that aspect seems non negotiable.

No stranger to hard work, Mr Downer has his work cut out for him at Jester's if he is to bring the company's vision to fruition. There are currently 65 stores with plans for a total of 250 Australia-wide and another 50 in New Zealand. All eminently achievable according to Downer.

With the strong foundation and success of Jester's in the WA market, Downer is confident there is nothing 'pie in the sky' about this group and is keen to put his mark on yet another successful national and international franchise expansion.



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