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Go go UEA ‘Unio’

Wednesday 10-12-2014 - 15:17

Union House at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is changing.

As well as organisational changes, the building itself is going through a massive reconstruction – the biggest in its 50 year history. The warren of individual offices are being merged into a large creative clearing where departments can work together, exchange ideas and operate in the transparent environment of an open office.

With the modernisation underway, students drinking much less alcohol (at UEA at least) and with café culture an ever-growing market, it seemed natural to suggest a coffee franchise should be part of the plan. However, the team at UEA had different ideas...They decided they wanted to launch their own coffee brand.

Alex Wyatt, Commercial Director at UEA, tells us how they set about it: 'I have had some experience of working with and copying the offer of nationally recognised brands on a local level. Investing in clever signage and a funky logo really is the easy bit, the hard work starts when you have to consider the day-to-day operation because long after the excitement of the launch and discussions about artwork have passed, you then need to deal with delivering real consistency, speed of service, ensuring a full product line up and brand standards. Not to mention customer and student officer feedback from a business meters away from your desk. This required a strategic approach.

'Never one to reinvent the wheel, we managed to ‘acquire’ a training manual from one of the larger brands. Adapting this to our mission of social enterprise was fairly straight forward as the principles of service and customer satisfaction are exactly the same whether you’re trying to line the pockets of shareholders or using the money to fund advice for students who find themselves in trouble. Having this strict approach to process is the only way you can deal with large demand on a daily basis. We then followed this through with an audit process (again adapted from a larger coffee brand). This was really useful for setting the boundaries of what is acceptable for our own offer; one of the best examples being that if we serve even one cup of coffee in a non-branded cup, it’s all over.

'So our coffee brand 'Unio' was born. How’s it doing? Well we’re already turning over more revenue than the previous offer and for me, the highest compliment is that staff in the university are already regularly referring to it as “Unio” and not “The Hive” or “Union House” and for the first few months of trading; that is a great result! For the future we now have a business model that we can move to different locations (should we choose to) and we are able to ensure the environmental and social responsibility of our own brand which everyone is very proud of.'

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