Daniel Campbell of Red Box Coffee

Meet the MD: Daniel Campbell of Red Box Coffee

What is it the company does?

My company has two revenue streams. The first - where we started off, is roasting small batch coffee and hand blending teas. Our artisan products are stocked through an independent food service provider called Fife Creamery, situated only 45 mins drive away from Edinburgh. The second and newest venture is our phone box coffee pods, the first of which opened in Haymarket station in August 2016, with the second at Ocean Terminal shopping centre opening in November last year. Around 70% of our products are 'free from' foods and we try to buy from independent local suppliers. Presently we are building a franchise package and our plans are to roll this out throughout the UK and beyond. We already have 5 tentative franchisees in the pipeline and we hope to have an extra 3 coffee pods in Scotland by summer this year.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

My role is a bit like a juggler, trying to keep a lot of balls up in the air and without dropping any. I will admit it is hard but very rewarding. But in reality my role involves traveling the UK setting up trade shows, finding new business accounts for the tea and coffee, meeting with prospective landlords and franchisees throughout the UK, roasting, tasting and preparing coffees at the pods and blending and packing teas. And very importantly trying to maintain good service for our customers and keeping staff morale high. 

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I was born into the catering trade where my family ran a hotel in the Highlands of Scotland on the banks of Loch Ness, an iconic landmark in the hospitality and tourism industry. I started work at the tender age of 10, when my duties were clearing tables and washing dishes, so a hard work ethic was drummed into me at a very young age. When my high school friends used to be out in the local town drinking, I would be serving coach loads of visitors, pouring pints and serving a la carte meals! My father always says that hard work will eventually pay off and business is not easy - if it was then everyone would be doing it. I know I sound sad to some people but I love working - I get a kick out of getting new business and overcoming problems.

From working weekends and evenings I saved up to help fund a college course in Switzerland - at the Cesar Ritz College in Bouveret - where I studied hotel management. It was an amazing experience to say the least. It wasn’t just about gaining in-depth knowledge about food, drink and all aspects of how to run a hotel, I’m also privileged to have friends all over the world.

After graduating I then worked for the renowned Witchery Group in Edinburgh, Martin Wishart with a Michelin star & 4 AA rosettes. From there I gained more experience and friends at the five star Balmoral Hotel. I worked at their fine dining restaurant called Number One, also with a Michelin star.

After this I travelled to Czech Republic. I moved because of love. My partner Michaela comes from Prague and she had to finish off her last year of University (this was her final chance because she stayed in Scotland because of me). I worked for the most famous fine dining restaurant in Prague called V Zatisi. After this I moved back to Edinburgh to be a General Manager of a private members club on Princes Street called the Royal Over-Seas League and within five years in the post I doubled the turnover to £1.2 million and from making a substantial loss to substantial profit of £100,000. After all of this experience with working with food, drink and gaining knowledge, I was confident I could run and make a successful business. This is when Red Box was formed - deep down my passion has always been coffee!

What do you believe makes a great leader?

A leader should always lead by example and have a vision - if you don't have milestones and aspirations then you will get nowhere. I saw a video about two kind of people at work - there are Eagles & Ducks. Eagles soar above, aim high and look down on the ducks. Then the ducks will always be ducks and never get anywhere. Positivity and being progressive also make good leader skills - I dislike negative people and a defeatist attitude within work. I always try and give it a go (if it’s not too risky) and if it doesn't work then I'll try something else. I always try and listen to our customers and staff and praise people when they deserve it. I look for the best in people and give them extra responsibilities, so they know they are appreciated. 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Biggest challenge I would say is time management - trying to juggle a young family and a busy start up business, I think if I worked 24/7 non-stop I would still find things I need to do. Business is very important to me but I have learnt that working far too much can also be counterproductive. Being a GM of a hotel I was working around 80+ hours a week and I was so tired and totally worn out by the fourth year. Amazingly my son, who's three now, came along and changed my outlook. Saying that, I work more than a normal full time job, but I always get the weekends off to spend valuable time with my son and partner. My days off entail checking up on other coffee shops to check out the competition.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Similar to the answer above, spending time with my family and taking trips away. Our favourite day trips away are going to St Andrews and North Berwick. You need time to relax and shut off from it. After a few hours away from work and home I always feel recharged and ready to go again! 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Well, I was lucky that I always knew what I wanted to do - it was certainly going to be in the hospitality industry, it always has and probably always will. I was constantly so passionate about my country and the produce I was serving - from West coast Langoustines, to Highland reared beef, to whisky that was distilled just down the road from the hotel. Saying that I did go through a phase of wanting to be an airline pilot but quickly learnt that I couldn't get the grades. In hindsight I'm happier being an entrepreneur. 

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Pet hates are dirty coffee shops, especially dirty cutlery, counter and glasses that haven't been polished. I don't go crazy at the staff I try and explain that would you like to be served a dirty fork? Would you like to eat your cake from that? Then they quickly get the point. I don't believe in shouting at the workplace, it’s not professional and counterproductive. I think to get the best out of people is to guide and support them, that's how I have learnt how to be my best - learning from previous leaders I respect.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Whilst I'm travelling the UK I would love to see one of my coffee cups randomly lying on a bin or window sill - I would take so much satisfaction from that. Don't worry, our cups are 100% compostable :-) I can see Red Box having some amazing franchisees around the UK, all performing well and taking on the huge coffee chains that I would rather not mention. In 5 years we will still be roasting small batch coffee and blending teas by hand but on a bigger scale. Also keeping to our morals by keeping our green ethics and supporting local businesses and charities. By then I hope that we will start to have a global reach and start franchising worldwide. We already have had interest in Dubai and China.   

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Before you even open a business think very long and hard, you have to give it more than 110% and be available 24/7. Sometimes I'm roasting coffee and packing teas in the small hours, and delivering them by 9am. Do not expect to be a millionaire overnight, there will be a long wait and hard work but hopefully it will pay off one day. Also learn to take criticism constructively and not to heart, listen to outsiders and don’t just listen to your family and friends. It is a fine line as a start-up company between success and failure. If you do fail first time, try again and again. Once you have an idea and you want to give it 110% then my advice would be to start with an entrepreneurial programme such as Entrepreneurial spark where they have hatcheries all over the UK. The advice and guidance they give you is priceless and it’s free.   

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

That's a hard question as I knew what I was getting myself in for, because my mother and father had a small business when I was growing up. I expected the long hours, little time for holidays and general hard work. After many years they both build up a successful hotel business and due to unforeseen circumstances, we literally lost almost everything and they had to start again. So I knew business is not easy at all and you can never give up! 

Published: 16 February 2017

Article by Leanne Miller
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