This is a story about really knowing your brand or business.

Forensically, I mean.

How people perceive it.

How people actually use it and interact with it.

Exploring the part you play in both of those things.

And how you might be able to make things better.


And as such, this is an important little tale.

An insightful tale.

A positive tale.

(Despite the title!)

Northern Ireland. 

Each month, I work with a client in Northern Ireland.

I drive West from Northumberland.

Onto a Ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.

Then I drive across to Dungannon.

And each time I do this trip.

I stop at a Service Station on the Northumberland to Cairnryan leg.

On Annan Road.

Near Dumfries.

And when I do.

I always do exactly the same thing.

I buy a bacon sandwich and a flat white from a busy Greggs.

And I go for a wee next door.

In an empty Starbucks.

And the reason I do this?

Because at this particular location.

To me.

Greggs is a fast food outlet.

And Starbucks is a toilet.

People Watching.

In addition to my ritualistic eaty-toilety activity.

I also people watch.

I watch lorry drivers stock up with Greggs goodies.

Then go to the toilet in Starbucks.

I watch elderly husbands caringly direct their elderly wives to Starbuck’s really rather popular toilet facilities.

Just inside the entrance to Starbucks.

(Over there.

To the left, dear).

Before said husband then pops into Greggs to purchase his-and-hers sausage rolls.

And so it goes on.

Greggs is a busy fast food outlet.

And Starbucks is a toilet.

Really Knowing Your Business. 

I’ve founded and run a few businesses over about 30 years of my life.

I always thought I knew all of them pretty well.

But I probably didn’t.

Not really.

I always remember when I was a trainee McDonald’s Restaurant Manager in my early twenties.

I remember how the Area Manager, Dave, would insist that I stood in the dining area alongside him.

For an hour or more.

Once month.

Just watching.


At the time I felt restless.

Them working… whilst I was ‘just standing there’.

But I get it now.

We’d see out-of-time coffee being served.

We’d see Ben, wide-eyed and alert behind the counter.

Locking his eyes onto the eyes of each person he served.

And we’d see bleary-eyed Steve.

Hands in pockets.

Hunched and hiding as the others hustled.

We’d see tomato sauce on walls.

Empty sugar dispensers.

And stacks of trays.


And as I think about standing there in McDonald’s with Dave the Area Manager as a 22 year old learner.

I am transported back to the carpark outside Greggs and Starbucks as a 54 year old learner.

Still watching.

Still learning.

Pondering what on earth this Starbucks could do to become somewhere that people visited to purchase liquid.

As opposed to being somewhere people visited to deposit it.


The turnover difference between this Greggs and this Starbucks must be huge.

A statistic made ever-more stark by the fact that the physical footprint of this particular Starbucks is about five times that of this particular Greggs.

Starbucks is a Toilet.

So there it is.

On the upside for this particular Starbucks, sandwiched somewhere between Northumberland and the ferry at Cairnryan.

The floor tiles any further than six feet into the building will last for decades.

But on the downside for this particular Starbucks.

Whilst Greggs next door is a busy fast food outlet.

Very often with a small snaking queue.


Just under two metres away.

Is a toilet.

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