Getting to know you: Allister MacFarlane

1. What do you currently do?

Currently I run an independent coffee chain in Edinburgh called the The Counter with my business and life partner Sally. We serve our coffees from old police boxes and are located in three different locations in Edinburgh: Morningside, Tollcross and Usherhall. We’ve been running this business for the past 15 months.

2. What is your inspiration behind your business?

The inspiration behind our business is that we wanted to serve high quality products in really interesting environments. I’m a trained chef and was running kitchens, whilst Sally was working in event production and managing front of house for a catering company; when we decided we could put all our ideas and experience into something of our own. When it comes to our police boxes, our travels up the west coast of America highlighted to us how great the food truck and takeaway scene can be; quality and service do not need to be sacrificed for convenience. When an old police box came up for sale it seemed to fit the bill – and within our first year of trading we have been lucky enough to get our hands on two more.  They are such an iconic part of Edinburgh’s history; what started as a quirky prospect has become a key part of our business.

3. Who do you admire?

We admire the independent business scene in Edinburgh. It’s a very exciting market to be in and we all feed of each other. There is a sense of community amongst small businesses in Edinburgh which makes you feel that you’re all in this together.

4. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

If there’s anything we would have done differently, it would be not to expand so quickly. It’s been really exciting having our police boxes in three different areas in Edinburgh, however it’s been a lot of to handle and very fast paced. It can be get really overwhelming but it’s great to watch The Counter succeed in each location.

5. What advice would you give someone starting out?

Firstly,  listen to your customers and your suppliers. You need to have a quality product and believe in what you do.  You’ll be given lots of ‘advice’ from well meaning people who have never done what you’re doing – stick to what you know works but be prepared to adapt to what your customer wants. Secondly, associate your business with other great businesses such as iZettle who is our mobile payments provider. iZettle has enabled our business look professional in our space. Through iZettle we won a competition which enabled us to broadcast our own channel on primetime television – that was crazy. Also, don’t panic on slow days, they happen – ride out the highs and lows and you’ll soon see how things are really going.