Pret A Manger: Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham

How this succesful sandwhich shop filled up a gap in the market

From a small shop in Victoria to a global multi-million dollar operation that counts McDonalds as a £25 million stakeholder, Startups.co.uk, looks at the rise and rise of Pret A Manger.

Pret A Manger has come a long way in a short time. in just 16 years of trading it has changed the way we lunch forever. In the past, if inner city workers wanted to nip out and get a snack they could either go to a specialist, independently run sandwich shop or a supermarket where standards can vary from good to (more frequently) very bad. This is where Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham stepped in to fill the gap.

Three years after having graduated from the Polytechnic of Central London with the same degree (Urban Estate Management), Beecham and Metcalfe opened their first Pret a Manger store in Victoria in London with a name borrowed from a boarded up shop. However, after twelve years of running the business the two co-founders decided to take a more back seat approach and appointed Andrew Rolfe (right) as a partner, shareholder and chairman of the overall operation. Rolfe explains his introduction to the company.

“I met Julian and Sinclair in 1997 and then came on board in 1998 after the company experienced difficulties expanding their operations to outside London and abroad. I have the experience of running multi-site businesses through my work with PepsiCo and came to Pret had some very appealing angles.”

Passion

The angles or values Rolfe mentions are key to the brands’ continuing success and have been purposefully retained throughout Pret’s lifetime, something many small businesses could aspire to. Pret’s chairman believes the company to still be as strong as ever. “There are three core values that have always remained true to the brand and they all stem around passion. First and foremost, we are passionate about food and keeping it fresh and interesting. This is our core product and we work hard to produce the best we can. It would be easier to get tubs of guacamole instead of cutting fresh avocados in each kitchen in each shop but we stick to quality and taste.”

The second Pret passion is their staff, all 2,200 of them spread across 116 stores (25 outside London) in the UK. There are also several branches in New York as well as a Hong Kong store. Rolfe points out that in business all staff should be appreciated and that they play a huge role in the success of the brand. “We are passionate about people and our staff. They are extremely important and we make sure they have the right opportunities and rewards, that they are paid correctly and that they have fun working for us. We have and will always have a great culture and energy.”

Staff are also carefully screened before they join the company. Rolfe believes that sharing the company’s values is essential to wanting to work for Pret. “There is a rigorous assessment for each potential employee. We make them work in a shop for a few days, they have several interviews and, in each case, we try to get to know them as individuals.”

The third and final part of Pret’s sandwich success story is to be passionate and proud of the business and what they have achieved. Rolfe comments: “We make and have made mistakes but we remain proud of what we do and we try not to get distracted by a corporate approach.”

Expansion

When a brand gets bigger, expansion plans come into question and new partners need to be found to achieve successful growth. This is why last year the McDonalds Corporation bought a 33 per cent stake in the company that gave Pret access to their global infrastructure in property as well as improved construction and distribution and new ways of spreading the brand abroad.

However, Rolfe believes there is “still a long way to go” and states his long-term vision for the brand. “We hope to double the amount of stores we have in the UK and I also believe we could, potentially, have 200 shops in New York at some stage, plus we’re both nervous and hopeful that the shop in Hong Kong will be successful so that perhaps we can expand to other Asian countries.”

There’s no doubt that Pret a Manger has the ability to grow even further and at an even faster rate than in the past – a true example of how a great concept can emerge from nowhere to become a popular and well-respected brand.

We make and have made mistakes but we remain proud of what we do and we try not to get distracted by a corporate approach.

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