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Thinking about high growth strategies whilst eating my fish & chips

February 24, 2015

What a week that was! Last week was National Chip Week and we celebrated in style with chips for tea each night of the week with a subtle variation – straight, chunky, crinkly, wedges and then alphabet letters to end the week on a Friday night high. Just like the rest of Britain, I just can’t get enough of the delicious potato delight.

So congratulations to ‘The Golden Fish’, Dagenham, voted Britain’s Best Chippy 2015, with special mention in the ‘fish & chips Oscars’ for ‘Fishcotheque’, Waterloo Road, London, ‘New chips on the block’, Uttoxeter Road, Stoke, ‘Codrophenia’, Walkley Bank Road, Sheffield, and ‘Frying Nemo’, High Street, Carlton.

Almost 676,000 tonnes of British potatoes are made into fresh chips in Great Britain every year – that’s 322 times heavier than the London Eye – farmed from around 14,000 hectares of potatoes are grown each year – the same space as 19,600 football pitches. The average spend in a fish and chip shop is £3.22 – less than half the average price us Brits splash out on a takeaway curry.

Fish and chips was the only take-away food not to be rationed during the Second World War. Frederick Lord Woolton, Minister of Food at the time, even allowed mobile frying vans to carry fish and chips to evacuees around the country. Between you and me, I’ve always wanted to run a fish and chip shop rather than simply be a passionate consumer of the product, so I’ve been doing some research and planning into my potential new business: The Plaice to be

Fish and chips are the undisputed National dish of Great Britain, a cultural and culinary symbol of our country, instantly recognised as British the world over. Few can resist the mouth-watering combination – moist white fish in crisp golden batter, served with a generous portion of hot, fluffy chips. Like Vic & Bob, fish and chips are a classic double act.

The origins and development of the dish in the mid C19th are closely associated with the industrial revolution and it has maintained huge popularity as the original, affordable and nutritious takeaway ever since. Fish and chips were first served together as a complete dish around 1860 – Joseph Malin of London and John Lee of Mossley, near Manchester both staking claims to be the first ‘chippy’. However, the fried fish and cooked potato trades had existed for many years before this, with fried fish introduced to London by Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain in the C17th.

From the 1870′s the fish and chip trade spread rapidly, especially in London and the cotton and woollen manufacturing towns of the Pennines, and soon became a readily accessible hot, nutritious meal for many factory and mill workers. By 1910 there were 25,000 fish and chip shops around the country, peaking at 35,000 by 1927 and between the wars most industrial towns boasted a chippy on almost every street.

Probably the most interesting and patriotic claim is that fish and chips helped win the First World War! Lloyd George’s war cabinet recognised its importance to the Nation’s working classes and ensured supplies were maintained off ration. It helped feed munitions workers and kept the families of the fighting men in good heart. By the inter war years the trade consumed around two-thirds of the British wet fish catch. Again, reprieved from rationing during the Second World War, British soldiers identified each other during the ‘D’ Day landings by calling out fish and the response was chips. Any other response and they would have certainly had their chips.

British consumers eat some 382 million portions of fish and chips every year. That’s six servings for every man, woman and child. Annual spend on fish and chips is a staggering £1.2 billion, and 22% of people visit a chippy every week. The longest serving fish fryer is believed to be Bettina Dawson aged 90 of Moffat’s chippy, in Dumfries, Scotland who has been working in her family chip shop since she was 13 in 1936, that’s 77 years at the fryer!

Fish and chips, although still a great British tradition, has suffered a decline over the last couple of decades. The fast food market has changed rapidly since the 1980s as new types of fast food cafe have opened, giving people a huge amount of choice. Today, there are around 10,500 fish and chip emporiums in the UK, which dramatically outnumber the branded fast food sector, such as McDonalds, with 1,200 outlets. However, it’s the plethora of independent pizza, burger, Chinese and Indian takeaways which threaten too.

With McDonalds celebrating 40 years of UK success in 2014 and continuing to expand, how do you achieve high growth in a sector that has seen new entrants in the market, your product perceived as old fashioned, and compete simultaneously as an independent against national brands and low-cost local operators, when you’re just small fry(ers)? Here are my ’12 High Growth’ ideas:

Rebound First and foremost, complaining about your competition or lack of customers won’t help. It only makes things worse and demoralises those around you, and yourself. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, look forward. What are you aiming for? What does success looks like in 12, 24 and 36 months time? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, reframe your own future.

Restart Forget about how you’ve done business in the past. It was good enough then but it won’t give you the results you want in the future. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. What type of customers would it serve? Why should customers buy from me, and not others?  People get stuck in their own rut doing business the same way expecting things to change. Don’t be afraid to restart by changing your approach.

Rebalance Do you remember the reason you went into business? The end result of your risk taking should be freedom and fulfilment, not continuous hard work and a feeling of déjà vu. Dedicate time to rebalance your monthly, weekly, daily activities. If it’s all the business of today, no one is steering towards business of tomorrow. Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities.

Revisit How can you make money competing against a myriad of others based solely on the lowest price? In a tighter economy, the old strategy won’t work. Offering the same things every competitor does provides no advantage. Are your business strategy and business model viable in today’s marketplace? Will it build a winning company that works for you? Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12, 24 and 36 months.

Retool What should your business do to make use of online tools and media, to increase efficiency and deliver growth? Use the menu of social media tools to build a greater awareness of your brand and your offerings. Where can you leverage our online business model to greater impact? Take a look at this: http://ifish4chips.co.uk/

Refinance The best businesses are also the best funded and financed. A strong financial foundation provides the platform to innovate, and invest for growth. Now is the time to take a hard look at your finances, your financial systems, and your cash requirements. Prepare a 12-month cashflow, focus on managing your cash and use this information for strategy and pricing decisions.

Restructure Most companies use the same organisation chart for years without ever changing it. But over time, the old structure doesn’t work as business and customer demands change. Perhaps it is time to restructure and take a look at job roles, responsibilities, etc. What does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired?

Refocus What does you offer or what do you do differently to attract customers to pay for your services? How do you gather new fans of your company? Have you changed your target market to expand your customer base? Trying to convince new customers to hire your company using the same old price methodology won’t get you the growth you want. It is time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets by offering something exciting that gets customers paying you what it’s worth?

Rebuild Take a fresh look at your overall company branding, image, logo and website. Do they create any excitement? Do they give out the right impression to your customers? Does it promote technical expertise and value? Rebuild your marketing, almost as a relaunch.

Revamp What business routines do you call over and over, year after year? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile in today’s competitive economy, what innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and shock customers (in the nicest possible way?) Think inside out, think like a customer.

Refresh How much time do you give your team to training to renew or develop new skills? Identify the training and development needs for each member of staff to get them performing at a higher level and with continuous improvement. Use personal coaching to stimulate and to get their heads up and seek to perform the best they can be.

Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down specifically what you want your business to do for you personally in the next 5 to 10 years. Next decide what you must do to turn your vision into reality. Make it personal, so your business enables you to work to live, not live to work.

Chip shops, like other local retailers, be they newsagents, estate agents or bike shops need to change their business model to stimulate growth, primarily due to the impact of new competition. Besides the above thoughts, other factors I’d build into my thinking include:

  • Understand your market On any Friday, one in five takeaways are from the chippy, and more than half the UK adult population visits a fish and chip shop at least once a month, so the demand is there. However, who will buy fish and chips from you? Will it be passing trade? Shoppers? Local office workers? School children? People living on a nearby housing estate? Most of your custom will be repeat business, yet I don’t see many chippies offering customer loyalty schemes, which offer many opportunities for growing your business.
  • Know your competition Remember, your potential market must be large enough to support your business. Don’t forget that the size of your market depends not only on the number of potential customers but also on the number of other chip shops and fast food outlets already supplying locally.
  • Sell the benefits of your product A portion of chips contains less fat that a prawn mayonnaise sandwich. Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion – an average pizza has 871; Big Mac meal with fries has 888. Besides it’s value, flavour, and availability, it’s also a healthier food option than most realise.
  • Product awareness Bear in mind that customers have become increasingly environmentally aware, so get your fish supplies from protected or sustainable sources and make this a virtue of your offering.
  • Product range Scampi and calamari feature on many chip shop menus now. In Yorkshire, haddock is the most popular fish, cod is a favourite in Lancashire. Chips with gravy is more popular in northern England than anywhere else in Britain. Provide a variety of products for your target markets.
  • Serve a niche Notting Hill lays claim to Britain’s poshest fish and chip shop. Geales serves roast sea scallops and rocket salad along with the traditional battered fish and chips. http://www.geales.com/notting-hill/welcome

The view that Britain’s favourite takeaway food has had its chips is greatly exaggerated, with some smart thinking the local chippy can batter other local fast food competition. However, in the same way that listening to a ticking clock won’t tell you much about time, only that some has been wasted, living on a diet of nostalgia will only result in a soggy, cold business for which customers have no appetite. You need to think about your menu, tickle your customers’ taste buds and get them licking their lips in anticipation – keep them coming back for more and make it The Plaice to be.

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