When Dave and Adam Wright from my favourite coffee shop two black sheep told me they were going to launch a pop-up dessert bar in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, I was intrigued.
Last year two black sheep was awarded the City of Sydney’s Small Business of the Year, so if anyone can make a new concept like this fly it is the Wright brothers (excuse the pun).
Park Bench has now been open for a few weeks and is buzzing every time I drop by, so I thought it was time to get the low down on how they did it, in another Innovate or Die exclusive.
What is Park Bench all about and why did you start it?
Park Bench is a pop up concept. Essentially, we were approached by the landlord at the 580 George Centre to come up with a concept to fill an empty tenancy for around 6 months right on George Street. After agreeing terms just before Christmas a retro themed dessert bar became the plan.
The opportunity to trial a new business concept in prime retail location on George Street for a short-term without too many restrictions was just too good to turn down. Our attitude was, we have to make it work given that we know the area and agreed terms, which would make a short-term business viable if we drive it hard.
Why desserts? Why not just another two black sheep coffee shop?
To put another two black sheep store in the same centre would have been high risk given we are still relying heavily on regulars from the same office towers and area. We were determined to create a new brand and have always been interested in desserts as the margins are similar to coffee, but gelato and dessert is less labour intensive, so in theory, simpler.
However, one thing we are conscious of is utilizing the space as best as possible for the short time we have it. We are listening to what customers want, hence why we have put a coffee machine in with two black sheep coffee, and we will evolve to have a light breakfast and lunch offering very shortly making Park Bench a café by day, dessert bar by night.
So far, we have been able to fall back on a lot of our experiences and systems from two black sheep to get things moving, but having a new, fresh identity was more about doing something in the particular space we were offered. Had it been a block away, maybe two black sheep would have been the answer.
Where did the name “Park Bench” come from?
Park Bench literally came from a dinner table conversation between the two of us and a good friend, Nic.
We wanted a theme that reflected a picnic in the park, revived memories of 1980’s childhood, ice cream bars and iconic Kiwi imagery. We tossed up between a couple of names, the other being “Back Yard Cricket (BYC)” and then Nic just said, “How about Park Bench?”
Suddenly we could see the bench itself being the theme, ice cream in the park is a classic experience and it all just seemed to fit with the retro/garage theme, not to mention the fact we always intended to use recycled materials and do the majority of the building and labour ourselves.
Does the target market differ between “two black sheep” and “Park Bench”?
Having traded for five weeks, our market seems to be different in some ways. The CBD has a large Asian community that loves gelato and dessert as well as two black sheep coffee. In the evening, they make up the bulk of our trade. We are also pitching to couples or groups who are popping by after dinner or a movie or show given Event Cinemas and The Metro are within 50m.
During the day our coffee is very much pitched at corporate workers who may want to enjoy a slightly unique dine in experience while still catering for the commuter on the move. Being on the street front means we have a more transient audience, so in essence, we probably do have a slightly different target market. two black sheep is very much built on regulars and returning customers.
What are you doing at Park Bench that is different and innovative?
Firstly, a pop up in the CBD seems to be unique. A lot of our customers haven’t heard of the concept and it seems to be more prominent in inner city suburbs like Darlinghurst or Surry Hills.
The main point of difference around Park Bench lies in the fit out. By using recycled materials (milk crates with cushions for seats) and shipping pallets (for coffee tables) we are grabbing people’s attention and rocking the traditionally plastic boat of the CBD.
A lot of people take photos of the seats or at least stop and look. Our plywood and spray painted branding gives a basic DIY/old garage kind of theme and enhances the temporary feel of the place. We even used an old garden fence for our retro family feature wall. Garden fencing can make great wall paper!
But basically, we wanted to turn the traditional Gelato Bar concept on it’s head – they always seem to be very clinical looking – white tiles, slick fit outs, and a bit too plastic looking for us. By using interesting textures and features, like grass on the ceiling with upside-down picnic tables, it creates a very unique atmosphere.
How are you marketing Park Bench?
Initially, we have used two black sheep to cross promote the Park Bench project. We started with “coming soon” posters in store at TBS and on the blacked out windows of Park Bench while we were building. As our launch date approached, we handed out a few hundred postcard style invites using a photo of our Dad in 1985 (as seen on the family feature wall at Park Bench) to give a retro, moustache clad feel to the brand.
We have also run online marketing campaigns on Facebook, trying to generate interest by rewarding followers with $50 of free gelato. 580 George Street showed their support by putting up signage in the lower ground and HSBC lobby to make the locals aware, and the next step is to get on board with The Metro Theatre and try to get their customers through our door.
What has been the best part of opening Park Bench?
Our ambition to roll out more two black sheep stores hasn’t changed. This is a heavily systemised business where we have years of experience and have had some success.
Rolling out a concept like Park Bench in a new market (dessert) and being able to get it up and running from concept to opening inside a month was extremely rewarding! It gives us great confidence to roll out another two black sheep because we feel like in coffee, we know what we’re doing whereas with Park Bench, we are still trialing, testing and measuring.
This, coupled with a no constraints on design, getting back to basics and starting something fresh and coming up with a new concept have all been fantastic. Orchestrating a complete build in 10 days, creating a network of trades people and creating a completely new company from scratch, under pressure, has been a huge learning curve.
What has been the hardest part?
The biggest battle has been the fact that we are both enormously committed to the shop in terms of hours at this stage, meaning we essentially don’t have enough time in the day to work on, not in the business. We are still training and assembling our team too.
However, aside from feeling a bit over worked, the biggest challenge is cracking the formula for the space. By this we mean that we feel when we understand exactly what our customers want, what offering works for this location and how we manage that, we feel we will see growth accelerate rapidly.
For now, we continue to try new products, work on new ideas and understand a new business. Each day, things are growing and improving, our systems are getting better and we overcome a hurdle, one at a time.
What’s next for the two black sheep/Park Bench boys?
Our number one priority for 2012 is to expand on two black sheep. We would love to have another store open and trading by the middle of the year. We are starting to get pretty active in the market for new sites again and feel we have a model that fits high foot flow, CBD locations.
In terms of Park Bench, if the concept works, it may stay longer than 6 months, or it could be rolled out somewhere else. If it only lasts 6 months, then hopefully we hit our targets and learn some fantastic lessons along the way.