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Feb '19 Case Study

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

From day-dreaming to digging, planning to painting, margins to menus, BrandLanterns has had the privilege of being part of the Boathouse journey. Here’s the story so far…


Case Study: Boathouse, Topsham.

Business: Café/Creperie, Restaurant

BrandLantern services: Strategy, Carpentry & Joinery (In-built Bench & Bar Counters), Food Styling & Photography, Copywriting, Logo Design, Marketing (PR, Print, Signage & more).

Project Duration: Summer 2017 - present.


The beginning…


I met Paul, owner of the Boathouse in Topsham, at the point when his café was only a fuzzy dream. He soon went on to buy a new home for himself, and set about seeking the necessary permissions to convert the lower level into a café/creperie. The doors opened for business in summer of 2017.


Paul compliments me by saying that my advice and ideas helped to shape the café, yet in reality I remember spending just as many hours helping to shovel rubble, cruising the Internet into the early hours for the perfect lights, chairs, tables etc, and washing dishes long after launch parties. Stripped of that elusive marketing glamour, it was a wonderful adventure to be part of.



“Sara at Brandlanterns has been a crucial member of the team for the development and creation of the Boathouse cafe , bistro and bar. Her wide ranging knowledge and experience in branding, strategy and practical marketing has helped take a business idea from a personal dream to a profitable enterprise”.



In the gallery above you can see the extent of the development and the quality of the joinery, upholstery and fittings. There's an exceptionally talented craftsman behind this, who I would be quick to incorporate into such a project again. Yet some of my work was very much done ‘on the fly’, as I juggled my full-time role as Head of Marketing at Philip Dennis Foodservice.


I sketched logos on the back of ripped envelopes, worked them up at home, and put together simple mood boards that I’d ping through on whatsapp to the Boathouse owner whilst cooking dinner for the kids! It was fast, furious and fun, whilst still with great results along the way. You may notice the changing artwork on the main wall, a special area reserved to promote local artists who share an equal love for nature and the sea.



[A note re the logo: When Paul purchased the property, the room that is now the cafe had been used to store a boat (!), and the arched ceiling felt more prominent. Whilst significant building work and tanking meant the arch connection in the logo was lost, it still 'feels right' when you know the cellar-like personalities of the properties that open up onto Ferry Road.


I was keen to add the wave detailing and flick birds in respect of the estuary that lies in front of the Boathouse, with it's unique blend of romance, wilderness and serenity. I wanted the logo to have a relaxed 'scrawl' that felt effortlessly elegant whilst still casual, to mirror the aspirations we had for the venue's personality.


The varying 'thicks' and 'thins' of the font suit the tidal ebbs of the river, whilst the brand colour palette takes inspiration from the seasons and beauty of the Exe River too. I knew the simplified version would come in handy for smaller signs, favicons, mobile devices etc too].




It's fair to say that during this early stage we often felt like we were both winging it, but Paul’s energy and determination to achieve his dream was infectious. For my part, it felt great to share food marketing and business tips, bring my somewhat suppressed experience in interior design back into play, and find an excuse to purchase Adobe Creative Cloud design software at home. The seeds for BrandLanterns had been planted elsewhere, but the Boathouse sure gave my business a good sprinkle of water and fertiliser.


“Sara’s ability to listen, nurture and support our needs, as well as creating outstanding logos and interior style ideas has been inspirational. Add to this her business acumen and it is a unique package tailored to the individual that we would highly recommend”.

The Boathouse is only small but has a really welcoming, special vibe and it quickly won the hearts of many locals. First year profits surpassed expectations and continue to rise, with January 2019 seeing their best weekend to date (bucking usual trends). Great credit must go to Lizzie (Manager) and Raph (Head Chef), an exceptionally hard-working couple who consistently create impressive food and provide first-class service. Whether you know from first-hand experience, or by checking out their reviews, it’s easy to see that Paul is very fortunate to have them at the helm.


“We stayed a week in Topsham and ate at the Boathouse every day. It's not just the best cafe in town, it's the best in the region. Great food, and run by a lovely couple”.
“Love the decor inside - simply stunning. Looking forward to another slice of heavenly cake and a delicious frothy cappuccino!”

The next steps…


It’s a rollercoaster journey for most new businesses, and so I usually encourage owners to hold back on getting too obsessed with ‘brand’ at first. That may seem surprising to those who know my passion for smart branding, but the best brands are not a product of a marketing agency, but rather a representation of true personality and heartfelt beliefs or ambitions – and that takes time for a business to find.


My role during that phase is not to push or create the illusion of a brand (easily done), but rather to guide, nurture and provide a safe structure from which to experiment, until the answers and timing feels right. Not only is the brand then more credible, but the story behind the journey becomes a cherished sales aid in itself.


In the summer of 2018, I arranged for Anna Britten, Editor at Exeter Living, to visit the Boathouse. I quickly staged a photoshoot beforehand too, to ensure we could supplement their feature with some great photos.



In her review, she praised the food, the décor and ambience, and the publicity was welcomed. Yet we started feeling uncomfortable with the Boathouse increasingly labelled as French. Raph is indeed French, but Lizzie is from Belgium, and Paul travels with work and gathers inspiration from all over the place.


I also felt that labelling the café as French was somewhat misleading, and might shackle the Boathouse into an unnecessary pigeon hole. However, at the same time I agreed it held great marketing strength…complemented perfectly by Raph’s passion for good food (and alluring French accent). The answer? Just to say it as it was, and let the words lead the action:


“A celebration of the flavours and passion of France...and beyond!”




BrandLanterns was asked to create a strategy guide for the Boathouse, outlining its direction and next steps, identifying its audience groups and establishing a creative theme for print materials and signage. The underlying goal was to establish a friendly, social hub with a creative but calming atmosphere; and a menu that celebrated fresh, local ingredients whilst playing with inspiration from further afield. Receiving the document, and following a get-together with Lizzie and Raph, Paul replied:


“Great, it’s all in there! We can crack on now”.


Time to get creative…


There’s still a lot to be done, wrinkles to iron out and hurdles to overcome, but the initial printed materials are already receiving lovely comments. The idea was to create a clear identity for the Boathouse, yet with flexibility to allow it to seamlessly move from a down-to-earth, fresh, casual café/creperie by day…into a more grown-up, sophisticated and twinkly restaurant by the evening.


Soft tones and bold stripes will be used to convey the traditional ‘café/creperie’ (see gelato menu and exclusive hire postcards as examples), whilst the colours become richer when associated with the evening restaurant, with metallics adding a touch of glitz and borders subtly becoming more ornate (see dinner and drinks menus). A bespoke pattern incorporating logo elements and icons is incorporated too, for reasons I’ll explain another time!


French words and phrases within the headers adds a sense of intrigue, and allows their playful continental personality to shine through (see directions board, gift vouchers and valentines menu for early examples). Framed posters are printed onto an off-black, matt background to give the impression of blackboards and complement the real ones inside, whilst the overhead hanging sign is a heavy-duty hardwood with gloss paint for a quality, long-lasting finish. Like it? Hope so.



Now, with the energy of the Boathouse team, and my passion to help them achieve the extraordinarily high potential of this little place, that’s of course not all. I could tell you about their green efforts, the community initiative ideas, the exciting new PR opportunities being seized, plus the smart move to reserve Sundays and Mondays for exclusive hire…but that’s a whole new blog post in the wings!


To find out more about how BrandLanterns could help you turn your dream into reality, visit Brandlanterns.co.uk or get in touch with Sara-Jane Williams.


T: 01271 372620 M: 07975 728819 hello@brandlanterns.co.uk