Cookie Box creating 40 new jobs and six stores before taking bite out of Middle Eastern market
Exclusive: Family firm expanding outside Northern Ireland
A family-owned cookie and milkshake chain is set to open six new stores here and create up to 40 jobs before expanding into the Middle East with a further 18 franchises, it can be revealed.
Cookie Box is further growing its sweet treat chain in Northern Ireland, with half a dozen stores planned.
But it's also expanding its business into the Middle East, as it finalises a deal which could see it opening six franchise outlets in Qatar and a further dozen in Saudi Arabia.
The Belfast-based business began life in 2008, when husband and wife Brian and Claire McRandal moved back from England -where she's originally from - to set up their own business in Northern Ireland.
The pair opened a small shop in Ann Street in Belfast, close to Victoria Square.
Now, they have six shops across Northern Ireland - two of which are franchised.
And now 39-year-old Brian McRandal says he is planning to expand his booming cookie and milkshake empire to the Republic, with grand plans to franchise the business south of the border.
"We are hoping to open another two this year (in Northern Ireland) and we have a deal agreed in principle for the Middle East," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The initial master franchise would be six in Qatar and 12 in Saudi Arabia.
"We are hoping to get it completed by the end of this year."
Mr McRandal's foray into business began after university, and he left his area manager's job with McDonald's to pursue his goal of setting up his own company and working for himself.
He's also hopeful the firm will turnover £1m in the next 12 months.
Cookie Box now employs 27 staff across its sites. And it remains a family business, with his sister also managing one of the stores now operating across Northern Ireland.
The business began with their flagship shop in Belfast city centre, and struggled to get going with a difficult first six months, due to long-running roadworks in the area.
But it soon took off, and a further three Belfast stores followed. That includes another in the city centre, the Lisburn Road, and the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast.
"We have six here, four are owned by the company and Lisburn and Bangor are franchised. We are now advertising into the Republic," he said.
And the company's latest plans to begin franchising their business to the Middle East came about with help from Invest NI, during a key trade trip.
"We were working with Invest NI - there was a man over there from England and they had set up a new company, looking at different concepts - three in-house, and three from abroad.
"Invest NI has given us a lot of support.
"We went out in May and it was good to network and have that support."
And while business has been good, it's been strongly dependent on Northern Ireland's temperamental climate and often severe lack of sunshine.
"I think with the climate, it's been difficult. Sales have been slightly down based on the weather.
"It's only this week where things have picked up. We are weather-dependent and use about £100,000 of ice cream a year."
Welcoming the Cookie Box's expansion both abroad and at home, Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said it was a triumph to succeed in new global markets.
"I think it is great news and it's great to see a local company which is expanding into the Middle East, particularly on the food side," he said.
"It follows what other very successful companies like Mash Direct have done.
"It's a very good news story and I wish them every success, and in expanding beyond the Middle East."