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Food-loving brothers share secret to multi-million retail success

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Chris O’Connor and James Brundle are reinventing the grocery stores

  • Company: Eat17
  • What it does: Eat 17 is an multi award-winning independently owned group of restaurants and convenience stores in London and the South East.
  • Founded: 2006, East London
  • Founder/s:  James Brundle and Chris O’Connor
  • Size of team: 50-100 employees with two new stores planned
  • Your name and role: James Brundle, co-founder of Eat17

What is your growth story?
We both wanted to start our own business and the opportunity came up to take a lease in a run-down off licence called Pauls wines in Walthamstow back in 2006. We then purchased a red transit van and went out regularly to markets and local suppliers to buy our goods, it was very long days so we made a habit of just staying in the van! This was where the journey began.

We now have four stores across London and the South East, with two more set to open in the Summer.

How did you come up with this disruptive business idea?
Our aim was to create a convenience store that was nothing like your average supermarket and we wanted to inject energy, theatre and a vast array of interesting foodie delights sourced predominantly from local suppliers and used this as our fundamental.

We were always keen on starting our own thing and going into business together was a perfect fit. One of us would stay on a till, whilst the other went to cash and carries and local suppliers in the day. We would then both be on the till in time for the evening rush, with some added help from James’ cousins.
It was a hugely exciting period for us and we learnt loads of lessons in the first couple of years.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?
Nowadays, there are loads of different ways to secure finance, it very much depends on what the goals are. Growing organically can be a good way of doing things and maintaining control or alternatively many businesses have been turning to crowd funding.

What do you believe the key to growing this business is?
Set out to be different, ensure you have a USP and work harder than your competition.

What metrics do you look at every day?
We have monthly management board meetings where we discuss performance and as me and Chris are in the business every day, we try and be involved in all parts of the business.

What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Rely on your staff as you cannot do everything yourself. Staff within a business are the most important thing, if you have good people this will help create a strong business and a good experience for your customers.

What’s been your biggest mistake so far?
We started the business when we were very young so we have made plenty of mistakes along the way and have probably had 100’s of embarrassing moments. Eat17 is all about innovation and this means trying new things all the time. We put a lot of thought and effort into launching things, but if they don’t always work we don’t dwell on it.

The first year really opened our eyes to shoplifters and troublemakers and at the beginning it felt like we had an incident a day, it really opened our eyes to the potential risk of these things happening.

What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the next 5 years?
Eat 17 has evolved a lot over the years, and it has started a mini revelation within the independent retail sector. Our customers are extremely passionate about the brand as they trust us and this is massive motivation for us to ensure everything is the best that it can be.

Apart from opening our new stores in Hammersmith and Leytonstone this year which are huge, we have also just launched refillable stations in our Bishop’s Stortford and Walthamstow store for items such as milk, wine, oil, detergent, cereals, nuts etc. We’ve just launched our premium healthy homemade range of ready meals which include healthy vegan options and home cooked favourites freshly prepared by chefs in our Hackney kitchen. And we have an exciting new pastry chef called Remi who has developed a delicious indulgent range of bakery items.

Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?
It’s too hard to pick a couple, we work with tonnes of London producers and suppliers who have great ideas and products – there are some fantastic concepts and ideas out there.




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