Case Studies

How The Rolling Donut Uses Storytelling to Build a Solid Customer Base

Lisa Quinlan and the team at The Rolling Donut, started with humble beginnings. It was with these humble beginnings that Lisa created The Rolling Donut and used its story as a brilliant way of connecting with customers.

With its base as a brick-and-mortar store, The Rolling Donut expanded to offer delivery and custom branded orders. It’s this adaptability which has resulted in The Rolling Donut building an enthusiastic and growing customer base. 

One thing’s for certain though, it’s the quality and vibrancy of their product which has truly set them apart on the Dublin high street.

Lisa and the team took the time to share some of their thoughts on running a successful store and how it’s evolved over the years.

Lisa Quinlan

Lisa Quinlan – CEO & Owner 

What inspired you to start The Rolling Donut?

When I was younger, my father Michael had a mobile food truck selling sold hot fresh donuts at festivals and events all over Ireland. I worked part-time for him at weekends or summer holidays. This is where the name ‘The Rolling Donut’ came from. He resented the name as it reminded him of hard times struggling back in the 70s & 80s but to me, this was the beginning of a story I wanted to tell everyone! 

I spent years waiting for the right opportunity to present itself to start my own thing and develop the product and brand.

Luckily donuts became extremely popular following social media trends and having grown up in the business knowing everything there is to know about donuts it was the right time to start ‘The Rolling Donut’ brand and continue my father’s legacy. I found a small bakery and started making fresh sourdough and vegan donuts and found a small shop on Bachelors Walk and it went from there.

What’s unique about your business? Why do your customers keep coming back to you?

I would like to think our unique selling point is that people can taste the quality of our donuts – We use only the best quality ingredients and make all our own fillings and toppings in house. It can make our product a lot more costly to make but ensures our customers keep coming back. 

Our story is also one that customers love to hear especially when our staff are telling it. People are so supportive when they hear we are an Irish family business that has developed over two generations of hard work and that we’re not just another flash in the pan! It’s an incredible feeling to have been able to live out my dream alongside my father. He really is a legend.

Gustavo The Rolling Donut

Gustavo Silva – Manager flagship store, South King Street 

What do you think are the key reasons for the success of The Rolling Donut and would you do anything differently if you were starting it today?

I’m a huge advocate of customer service and attention to detail. Without these two elements, I don’t see how a business can succeed. I take every complaint personally and do anything I can to make sure the customer experience is better each time. Our staff are another huge reason for our success. I feel like the rolling donut team is like a small community where everyone supports and looks out for each other and I’m really proud of that. With any fresh product, there is quite a lot of pressure to get the best quality donuts out on the shelves before 7 am so without our amazing team of bakers and shop staff, none of this would happen! 

If I was to do things differently I would probably learn to be more organised and put structure on things long before I did. I recently started a go for growth initiative by Enterprise Ireland and it’s a game changer. I have an amazing mentor Louise Phelan and I only wish I had a mentor from the start instead of guessing what way to do things. Why try to reinvent the wheel! It’s been done before which I seemed to forget. It can be a lonely place running a business sometimes so having that support network now has been hugely beneficial for me and the future of The Rolling Donut.

Aurora Rolling Donut

Aurora Andrus – Marketing & Social Media Executive

What were some challenges you encountered when starting you didn’t anticipate?

Some of the problems I encountered at the start were delays in shop openings for various reasons and that can be hugely stressful when you have no funds coming in and everything going out! 

Making big decisions on who to hire next was also a big challenge for me as things grew very quickly and I wasn’t always sure of the next right move. I just had to keep listening to my gut and pushing on. 

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, to promote your businesses? 

Yes, we use them all and owe a lot of our success to our two biggest platforms Instagram and Facebook. I’m not quite sure how we would have got the word out so quickly that we opened doors without Insta stories and posts. Our donuts are very photographable which makes our product easier to market. However, social media will only get you so far the product has to speak for itself to get repeat business. 

How successful has it been for you? Any advice on how businesses can use social media to promote themselves?

My advice would be to look at who your market segment is and make sure your customers are using that platform you spend your time and money on. Use analytics to see who’s looking at your posts and what’s driving sales. We have been way too focused on Instagram and Facebook but are now putting a lot more time into LinkedIn which is where our corporate customers are. We have a huge corporate customer base that we weren’t really tapping into on Instagram! So it’s all still a learning curve for us each day. 

What has been the most effective way to drive traffic to your website?

The highest percentage of customers who land on our website is actually by customers putting different searches into Google. This shocked me as I thought it would be through our social pages.

Following that, it’s driven from a new product picture on our Instagram and a shop now button. I do feel that Instagram has gotten so competitive now that you would need to make sure you’re targeting the right people to get the benefit of any promotion you pay for. If you’re planning on putting a lot of budget into posts getting an accounts manager on Facebook and Instagram would be worthwhile. I still haven’t done this but would like to as I believe it’s very beneficial.

The Rolling Donut shop

What’s it like running your business? What does a typical day look like?

Every day is different but I usually wake up about 7.30am and check my mail and spend about an hour or so responding to people. Provided there are no major problems I usually bring my dogs for a walk and have breakfast before I head to meetings.

I’ve just hired a new general manager so I’m training him to replace me in the business so I can now work on it and not in it. This is a huge step for me as I’ve been so involved in operations since day one but the transition Is working out really well. 

I’ve just introduced weekly management meetings in our head office and a weekly reporting structure so following these, we’re all kept very busy and focused on what’s next. 

You use WooCommerce Delivery Slots for your store, how has it helped you and your store?

WooCommerce Delivery Slots has also allowed us to add a delivery fee which is added automatically based on location and allows customers to choose which store they want to collect from. We can also shut our online store down at a certain time to make sure no orders come in through the night we don’t know about. Our online store is something we are constantly working on to improve for our customers! 

What other tools or software do you use to make running your store a little easier?

We use Bizimply which is amazing for staff scheduling rosters/looking at staff labour costs etc. It’s been an incredible piece of software for our stores one we would be lost without. We also use web office touch which is hugely beneficial in analysing our figures flavours etc 

If you could give one piece of advice to new and emerging store owners, what would it be?

If you are hugely passionate about something don’t let begrudgers put you off. Hard work really does pay off! Always keep an open mind when it comes to implementing new systems and structures! I always shied away from them as I felt they were too ‘corporate’ and now with multiple stores, I wouldn’t be able to survive without systems and structures in place. They may cost something initially when the money isn’t there but can save you a lot of valuable time and money in the future 

Where to find The Rolling Donut

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Gina is our in-house content creator and social media manager.


1 Comment

  1. Jim Coffey says:

    Well done Lisa a truly great interview.
    Best regards

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