Doug Williamson: The Best Coffee Service Esquires Takes the Lead

The 10 Most Futuristic Business Leaders Pioneering Innovation, 2020

Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed in the world. Statistics say that more than 400 billion cups are consumed each year. The aroma, the essence and relief it offers in a cup, is mesmerizing, making it an important part of peoples’ day to day life. Doug Williamson, a 24-year-old young Canadian man realized that people needed a place to congregate outside of the local pub. With love for coffee and the people, Doug and his close friend set out on a daunting venture of exploring this flavorsome industry. They started Esquires in 1993, in a small “strip mall” that has grown to be the leading coffee brand in Canada and New Zealand today. As young, amateurs who had nothing but passion with the power to think out of the box, Doug and his team have an inspiring tale to tell.

Passion that Paved the Way

Starting their first coffee shop in in a small “strip mall”, as we refer to them in Canada, Doug refers to this opportunity as his first lucky break. The small but charming center, comprised of about 30 or so retail businesses, had come under tough times and was in receivership, which worked in favor of Doug’s business plan. He grabbed the opportunity embarking a new career path without any experience. Evidently, the first obstacle that would befall them was sustainability in the market without a name. They needed to work doubly hard to stay put in the competitive field. With the presence of the big brands around, Doug and his team worked tirelessly to earn a position and acceptance within the community. They needed to listen to the customers and evolve to serve them and customize their design according to the taste and choice of the local community. Hard work and dedication saw them through, and they gained the trust of and respect of people living in North Delta.

By the 90s they had established Esquires as a leading specialty retail coffee brand in western Canada. Name and fame followed as the team kept working relentlessly year after year. More doors of opportunities started opening every year. There was all sorts of pressure, as happens in business, to grow and expand, but they had worked really hard building the chain and did not feel a great deal of urgency to expand for expansion’s sake. However, fate had something different in store. In 1999, a lovely couple who were franchise experts in UK happened to visit the Vancouver Island store and cite their experience as “We fell immediately and madly in love with their energy, environment, and friendliness. We knew Brits would just adore this brand!” Well, another lucky break in the book of Esquires wrote a new chapter of success and the following years just Saw Doug travelling across UK opening Esquires franchise outlets throughout the country. Today, they have more than100 stores, but Doug is very proud to say that Esquires Coffee evolved from that one small store in a small suburb of Vancouver; by showing people that they valued their business more than the big brands.

The Essence of Remarkable Services

Today, Esquires is a fast charging coffee brand in the U.K. and Ireland with market leading innovation around food and beverage. Today’s coffee shop plays a unique role in their social interaction evoking different emotions in people. The Esquires coffee shops offer many other services apart from their refreshing coffee. They are places to meet friends, places to find peace; they are places where business is performed in an ever-increasing manner, they are places to unwind after the stresses of a busy day. They function as an extension of homes and businesses, as well as a place to escape them. Whatever the reason for visiting Esquires, every customer enjoys being in a comforting and peaceful environment where they can rely upon exceptional service and delicious food and coffee. Esquires draws on that need by providing a warm and welcoming experience while offering Organic Fair-Trade coffee, along with a range of quality teas and the latest in health focused cold drinks as well as delicious food freshly made in store. This clearly differentiates Esquires and has created a distinct goodwill with our customers who have become enduring and loyal devotees of the brand.

The Expansion of the Business with Strategic Planning

From moving into new markets to developing new products, franchising has given the company different avenues of growth. More specifically, it has helped the company grow by allowing them to utilize the talents and local knowledge of their franchise owners whilst they can focus on building the brand, the supplier network, generating value and improving their systems. Additionally, having franchise owners that challenge them daily to refine their systems for maximum efficiency is a powerful way of growing, which they would not have otherwise. Indeed, franchising has its challenges as well. Assembling a team of like-minded individuals is incredibly important, as is finding qualified franchise owners that share our vision and values. However, franchising has fostered the growth of the company largely with over 100 successful stores today.

Over the last number of years store growth has been steady and indeed continues to be so and in the more recent past they have also been marrying store growth to in house improvement in profitability through improved food programs and focus on procurement. While the latter does not necessarily bring about growth as such it does drive profitability in store for the people at the coal face, their franchisees.

The Experts Driven by a Vision

Doug started Esquires at the age of 24 along with his friend while they were still in search of a promising career path. Without any experience to begin an entrepreneurial journey was a challenging task however the suburb of Vancouver known as North Delta, is a land brimming with working professionals, students, and families of all ages, which could have been one of the factors that boosted Doug to take an unnerving step of risk. Taking calculated risks and standing strong despite the challenges has brought Esquires in the lead position today.

Aiden Keegan took over from Doug in 2018 and has played a vital role in the strategic growth of the company and having been a major contributor in the growth of the business. “Having been with Esquires, albeit in the Irish and GCC sides of the business since 2004 it sometimes seems to me that I have done little else! However, I did also spend some years in Ireland’s biggest indigenous coffee chain before joining Esquires and before that in various roles across hospitality.” Says, Aiden.

Aiden’s roles and responsibilities as the CEO of Esquires are quite varied and cover everything from operational improvements to procurement to franchisee development as well as looking after the balance sheet. In terms of the emotions around this, it is mainly pride in the job being done by the great team, Aiden finds himself lucky to have a skilled team around him and the ‘product’ they deliver to their customers, the franchisees.

The Vision of a Unanimous Team

The team is passionate about ensuring their customers enjoy their experience at Esquires. They focus on building an emotional connection with the customers, paired with a functional solution to achieve a unique brand attachment and loyalty. Some of their key means of ensuring an exceptional experience in their coffee shops are:

  • A commitment to third wave coffee excellence and the desire to pioneer new innovative espresso beverages that are helping to shape the future of our coffee such as our recent Black & Tonic.
  • Freshly roasted Organic Fairtrade coffee, teas and chocolate served alongside a selection of carefully chosen healthy and freshly prepared in store food.
  • Individually designed and immediately recognizable cafes, exhibiting our sustainability commitments, independent character and proudly located in premium locations.
  • Comfortable seating and readily accessible internet connections, supported by great music and magazines
  • Staff are extensively trained to ensure they value all customers and practice a personal service
  • Constant innovation to stay ahead of our competitors and strengthen our reputation of always being “the place to be”

The Future of Esquires

Esquires already operates in numerous countries around the globe including Ireland, Canada, China, Pakistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Portugal. Franchising at its core, is essentially the leveraging of a good idea or a suite of good ideas and sharing that IP and adapting it for the market you are entering, however, for it to work one key factor must be at the heart of the business, the Franchisee. Without the Franchisee there is no franchising so their wellbeing in the business is the keystone to building any successful franchise. However franchising may change in the future, this tenet ought to remain true and adhered to. Esquires plan is to continue this expansion but in a sustainable way with strategic partners on the ground in these and new locations.

Esquires started with soul, passion and love.and today, 25 years later it has made a remarkable impression on the coffee industry. With over 100 successful stores, Esquires has taken the lead in the market as one of the best coffee brands with the best service. The skilled leadership and knowledgeable team continues to work hard to stay in the lead.