It’s party time here at Westender Magazine HQ – Happy 10th Birthday to us! As The University Cafe celebrates 100 years serving locals from their iconic Byres Road eaterie, travel agency Paul McCarroll House of Travel opens their doors for the first time on Great Western Road. Loraine Patrick chats to them all and discovers what it takes to be successful in 2018.
Ten years ago the first edition of this magazine hit the streets of Glasgow’s West End and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. Starting life as a Community Times franchise for Glasgow West, it has grown into a well known and well loved local resource for advertisers and readers alike.
‘I hadn’t seen a magazine representative of the West End,’ says Suzanne Martin on her decision to quit her job and start publishing a bi-monthly magazine. ‘There was a lot of information and leaflets out there but nothing that collated everything. I was on my second maternity leave and had nothing to lose.’
It has been a huge learning curve she continues. ‘My background wasn’t in publishing, so I am glad I started with an established business model. Within a couple of years the franchise went bust so I carried on independently. I found my own printing company, taught myself to use a magazine layout programme and carried on with a name and layout change.’
Initially Suzanne did everything herself, from the photography to the writing, the sales and the distribution. Gradually writers and contributors have come on board, the most recent recruit has been courier company Outspoken Delivery who help with the bi-monthly drop offs. ‘I am a decade older,’ Suzanne laughs, ‘my knees and my fingers are feeling it, and that delivery trolley just gets heavier!’
Indeed in the current climate where print runs are ceasing and newspaper circulations are declining – Westender is bucking the trend. Last year the magazine increased its readership, growing from 10,000 to 12,000 copies in print every two months.
Much of the magazine’s success Suzanne attributes to the eyecatching visuals which have become an integral part of each edition. In-house photographer Gregor Reid plays a huge part in determining how each edition will look and came up with the idea of the fashion pages as a way to make the magazine stand out, as well as a format for local retailers and advertisers to showcase their stock.
He picks up, ‘the fashion shoot also gives us a front cover image so stunning people want to keep the magazine sitting around. With social media being so saturated a high quality physical copy of the magazine is really important. Although we have a website and social media pages we are not only an online magazine. There is nothing quite like holding a print copy.’
It’s a real team effort these days and the idea of having titles doesn’t make sense Suzanne says. ‘As editor I just do what needs to be done, and Gregor is much more than a photographer, he is always looking at the design, how it works and how it could be made better.’
Gregor laughs, ‘she hates it when I suggest changes. We don’t fall out but we will both stand our ground. We can disagree over something as simple as a comma, a colour or a font. We both feel that passionately about the magazine.’
Staying united through the ups and downs of running a business is something local Italian family the Verrecchias know all about, as the family celebrate their 100th year of being in business with The University Cafe. Co-owner Gino, who runs the cafe alongside his older twin brothers, is quietly proud they are the third generation to serve local customers
‘Its amazing its still in the family,’ he says, ‘it really means something. People who come here don’t want a big fancy coffee shop where they sit in the window. It’s old fashioned in here and our food is homemade. We don’t change the menu, we cook food just as we always have and don’t serve anything that’s been frozen.’
The cafe is something of an institution. It features in paintings. It has been recreated in the Transport Museum and is one of the most recognisable shop fronts on Byres Road. Fitted out in 1918 by ship’s carpenter (and Gino’s father) Alfredo in luxury liner style, his hand carved art deco wood panelling still line the walls of the cafe alongside ice cream awards and memorabilia dating back through ten decades.
‘I have been here my whole life,’ Gino smiles. ‘I came here straight from school. I was dragged into the business, filling in for my dad, and I have grown up here. When I was much younger I bought a motorbike and working here helped pay for it.’
Customers love the nostalgia of the place. It’s a trip down memory lane. ‘One of our oldest customers was 101. He came here all his life and loved our minestrone soup. He travelled all over and never found soup as good as ours. Because our recipes stay the same, people come back time and time again for their favourite dish.’
The family are busy working on plans on how to celebrate the Cafe’s 100th birthday. ‘I would love to give something back to our regular customers,’ Gino says. ‘We have had incredible support from the community in recent years when times have been a bit tougher.’
Round the corner on Great Western Road Paul McCarroll from House of Travel hopes to have a lasting impact on the area too. He shares his story.
A hundred years on from his Great- Grandfather David Ramage opening a grocers in the West End, he has started up his own business – a Travel Agency – aiming to inspire and cater for all needs.
‘Did he ever think his great grandson would have a shop on the very same street?’ Paul proudly asks. ‘We talk about how hard we all work nowadays, but those days were tough. If it was a slow day in the shop that was it – if it’s a slow day for us at least we will still be doing business online and through our Facebook page’.
Paul has all the gusto and enthusiasm of starting a business in an industry he loves, with years of experience as a manager with Thomas Cook and TUI. ‘It’s always an exciting time to work in travel. It’s not massively well paid so you have to be passionate about it. Customers will come in with so much more knowledge now, or having booked a holiday themselves, but the one thing you cannot buy on the internet is trust.’
He goes on to say, ‘there are high demands for protection these days. We offer ATOL cover so if anyone goes bust their money is completely safe. We also never share information. Yes you can go online and book a cheap flight but then you have to add your baggage, get charged for changes and different things. There are no hidden extras with us. We are all about added value and being transparent and honest.’
The beautiful decor may suggest this is a Travel Agency just for high-end destinations. There is a private pod for larger bookings or clients looking for a bit of privacy but Paul is keen to point out this is a travel agent for everyone. ‘I think customers like to come in and be inspired. Most modern Travel Agents have done away with big desks and brochure racks but we have deliberately kept them. At the end of the day we are a shop and the brochures showcase what we do. Customers love to have a look and feel inspired.’
Three milestones in three very different businesses. House of Travel just opening and looking forward to big things, Gino reflecting on how 100 years have shaped his family and cafe, and Suzanne and Gregor planning where the magazine will go next. Watch this space readers – the sky’s the limit!
The University Cafe, 87 Byres Road
Paul McCarroll House of Travel
655 Great Western Road