My Week: Scott Martin of Costa Express

The posh coffee vending entrepreneur on being bought by Whitbread, rebranding and enjoying the trappings of success.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
Although we were bought by Whitbread in March this year for nearly £60m, not much has changed really. I’m still running our coffee business (70% of our machines are in petrol station forecourts) in the same way as I was before. I suppose the most notable difference is that I’m not having to check the bank balance every day to make sure we’re not breaching bank covenants. Also, now we have a wide availability for capital so it’s all about growing the business – and growing it quickly. So the priorities have shifted, but it still feels intrinsically the same job; I still walk up the same steps to go to the same office.

At the moment, we are working on a massive rebrand (we were called Coffee Nation before the acquisition, but changed to Costa Express to capitalise on the Costa name.) We’ve rebranded a number of the Coffee Nation machines to Costa Express already, and sales are growing very positively. The aspiration is to rebrand 70% of the estate, so that’s 500 plus, in this first year. It will take us up to two years to complete the rebrand. Of course people know what Costa is, but Costa Express is slightly different - the most noticeable difference is that there isn’t a barista serving the coffee.

I spend an awful lot of time planning with our operations team – more than I used to – because we’re doing more activity per month than we did in a year at Coffee Nation. I still find myself working until 10 o’clock at night. I thought I might have been able to ease off a little bit, but then the workload’s as high, if not higher than it was.

I have a terrible work/life balance. I always have had. Every year my wife and I say that I need to go out and get a new hobby outside of work, but I’ve never quite managed it. I have a holiday coming up, so it will be good to go and spend some time with the family – I have three children. They were brought up with me owning and running Coffee Nation (indeed, two of my sons were the chief testers for our new generation of machines). They find it weird it’s not my business anymore. ‘They keep saying "you’re not the boss any more Dad".’

As I was a co-founder and a significant shareholder in the business, I was able to get a reasonable amount of money from the sale. That has allowed me to do some sensible things like paying off the mortgage and taking care of the kids’ education, but I’ve done some frivolous things too. I bought a villa in Valencia - and a boat to go with it. My long-suffering wife is enjoying herself, I think. She’s been out at the villa for the last three weeks. Meanwhile, I’m here on my own eating microwave meals.

Scott Martin was a co-founder of Coffee Nation, now Costa Express


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