The power of vouchers

September 18, 2009

A recent survey we conducted showed that a massive 97% of diners interviewed use restaurant vouchers, thus allowing the offer to dictate both where and when customers eat out nowadays.

What is great is that restaurant operators are able to continue to grow sales by stimulating both frequency and spend with such an attractive discount offer AND as a result guests can still afford to go out for a meal in the current climate.  So commercially the concept of a discount works at many levels and even the hit on the food margin should be more than compensated by the savings in labour that will result as the volume of customers increase. 

Such is the approach from head office but one core issue is ensuring buy-in throughout the team.  Is the strategy really understood by all staff, especially those front-of-house who actually serve the guests?  For example, the waiter who is probably the least likely to spend his hard earned cash on eating out at a table service restaurant. He may wrongly perceive the discount-carrying guest as a bit of a ‘cheapskate’, who is unlikely to leave a tip and is not deserving of full-paying guest level service.

The new rules of not only surviving but thriving in the high volume world of the casual dining market are that diners want a really good deal ideally,  2 for 1 or 50% off, AND guess what, they want it with the same standards of food quality and service, if not better!  Gone are the days that it was too embarrassing to present a voucher as part payment of a bill, I would go as far to say that it is now not just acceptable that diners admit to using vouchers on a date – the new cool is getting a deal!

So will diners ever go back to paying full price once the recession is over?  I would say probably but who knows what will happen next?  At the end of the day being continually aware of what diners are thinking and expecting and adapting to maximise the opportunities of any prevailing market conditions is what has and always will be a fundamental in succeeding BUT never ever compromising on quality, standards and service.

At the end of the day the maxim that says ‘it’s about value rather than price’ is as true today as ever.

Shopping centres as brands

September 4, 2009

A couple of thoughts for today.  Firstly, can a shopping centre ever be more than the name of a large building?  And if not, what can be done about an existing name should there ever be a need to change? 

In the best traditions of yes, no and maybe I’ll go with ‘maybe’ in the first instance. Yes, there are shopping centre brands but they are quite a rare species.  Much of this is down to sheer scale but its not just about scale it’s also about personality, and daring to be different, but quite frankly again there are only a few centres that have the capacity to be different.  In many cases, however, I would suggest that a shopping centre brand is no more than a trading name, a badge on the front of a large building within which are housed a number of true brands in the form of shops and restaurants.  Whilst the desire to create a brand is not of itself wrong, the reality is that few centres will ever mature into ‘brands’.   Rather an arrogant statement BUT it is not about just an aspirational, clever or connected name.  It is about an experience which starts with a name and becomes synonymous with everything you do – the type of shops, the service style, the people you employ, the way you treat your suppliers and indeed your tenants. It is about every little thing and all the little but extremely clever, thoughtful touches that create a unique and memorable event.

The other issue that is related to this is the one of naming. One of the challenges for shopping centres is that once a particular centre is named it is quite difficult to re-educate shoppers into the use of the new name.  We’ve recently conducted research amongst users of a large urban shopping mall whose name was changed more than 5 years ago.  Even amongst users correct name recall was only around 80%, and that is amongst shoppers using the scheme on average once a week. 

Recent coverage was given to the decision by Wyevale Garden centres to revert to their ‘local’ brand names, on the basis that people have more of an affinity for a local centre.  I feel confident that the new Chief Exec conducted more research than just taking his Mother’s view before making such a big decision. Having driven past my local Wyevale sorry Brighton Garden Centre, the new signage did look very nice and I am sure a signage company (local I hope) is mighty relieved of the order in such hard times!  Whilst I can see the appeal of this “house of brands” approach in terms of playing the local card, which from all the research we have conducted we wholeheartedly support, people would far rather go local than a chain as long as you get better quality in terms of service and products. I wonder about the practicalities of marketing so many different locations, a single national brand would certainly give more bangs for the buck.  Or is the marketing being decentralised and are the Garden Centre Managers becoming marketing as well as Gardening experts?  

I am really excited about visiting my local Brighton Garden Centre to experience the new proposition and become more emotionally connected with all the changes they have implemented to make it feel independent/local beyond the pristine signage.  I will let you know what I find…