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Great service leads to growth & profits – for Bettys, it’s a piece of cake!

July 9, 2012 1 comment

I recently visited a friend in Leeds – a major city in the North of England. On the Sunday, a group of us travelled the short distance from Leeds to Harrogate, a few miles away. Harrogate is a spa town – you can walk past the “Royal Pump Room” museum  and still smell the sulphur from the spring below. This is just one of several mineral wells containing iron, sulphur and other chemicals that made the town an attraction in the Victorian and earlier Georgian eras.

As well as the spa, Harrogate also features the first Bettys Tea room.

Bettys Tea Room

Bettys was founded in 1919 and has since grown to include a number of other tea rooms across Yorkshire. The family run company now also includes  Taylors of Harrogate, the tea and coffee merchants with brands including the best-selling Yorkshire Tea.

Our visit to Harrogate included a visit to Bettys for morning tea and cakes. We were amazed at the level of service provided.

One friend asked about the orange juice on the menu. “Was it freshly squeezed?” Instead of just acknowledging that it was, we were told that it had been – but not that day, but on the Friday, as it was squeezed off-site and not at weekends. We asked about the ingredients of one of the cream cakes – was it made with butter or margarine and was it suitable for vegetarians? The waitress wasn’t sure – so said she would check in the ingredient listings. It turned out that it was made using butter and was fully vegetarian.  It tasted superb.

I watched our waitress (on the bill it said her name was Jade) – and others. They smiled, they conversed, were friendly, helpful, and their body language showed a real care and attention to each customer.  They knew their products – and if they weren’t sure they didn’t lie or guess, but went to check. The service was impeccable.

It turns out that the superb service is no accident. I asked whether there was any training provided – and was told that each waitress had one-to-one training before starting, and they were expected to learn the menu and were tested. They had an induction phase where they were watched and it took some time before they could graduate to become a full waitress. This training showed – it wasn’t just in product knowledge but also in the whole interaction with the customer, that made our visit such a pleasure. Bettys even has a dedicated website devoted to working for the company at www.workingforus.co.uk.

The results of this focus on excellence show in Bettys financial results. The company consistently makes a profit – and turnover and net worth has grown impressively over the last 5 years. This is despite one of the worst downturns for decades – showing that Bettys has come up with a strategy that seems recession proof. Although profits have not shown the same growth, they’ve remained stable – perhaps reflecting the value offered by the company, compared to competitors. (We paid more for our sub-standard tea on the self-service motorway café journeying up to Leeds).

Bettys shows how important service is for a business, and how appropriate training can lead to top-quality results, and evident staff satisfaction. (In 2007 Bettys was listed in “the 100 best companies to work for” compiled by The Sunday Times). This focus on quality, in the product as well as the product knowledge, attention to detail and customer focus can translate to the bottom-line result – and lead to turnover growth and profits.
Queue outside Bettys, Harrogate
The queues outside, waiting to get into the Tea room is evidence that Bettys is doing something right. The results – financial and reputational are too. It may look like a piece of cake to achieve this – but the numbers of companies that fail to provide adequate service shows that it isn’t. Maybe they should make a visit to Harrogate part of their own staff training!

Business Plans & the Year of the Dragon

January 23, 2012 1 comment

Water Dragon tiles

2012 is the Chinese year of the water dragon. One guide on what to expect for this year states that water dragons are equipped to step back and re-evaluate situations. They make smart decisions, but only if they do adequate research. Typically dragons are innovative, enterprising and flexible.

These skills are all essential for business planning and the start of the year is always a good time to consider plans for the rest of the year.

Business planning is an often-overlooked part of running a business – especially with small businesses. The cri-de-coeur “We are too busy to waste time on planning” may sound sensible, especially when recession beckons and every sale is required. However this is also a plan – in the sense that “failure to plan is planning to fail”.

My thoughts on business planning were aroused following a meeting with Jane Khedair of Business Plan Services. BPS has a network of advisors throughout the UK and English-Speaking world, who are trained at helping small businesses produce sensible business plans that should help guide them through the predicted rocky times ahead.

Business planning is a bit like going on a journey. You have a starting point, and a desired end-point with a range of routes to take you from the start to the finish. The key first stage in a business plan, of course, is to know exactly where you currently are – and that is where AWARE fits in. Our aim is to help clients understand their markets, competitors and general industry – looking at customers, suppliers, partners, competitors and the overall business environment.

The next stage is knowing where you want to end up – your objectives. That gives a target on which to work – developing approaches that should allow these objectives to be fulfilled. These become your strategies.

Setting objectives and strategies are a bit like route planning. There are multiple ways of travelling between London and Shanghai, China – and selecting  one will depend on the circumstances. Is speed essential, or is cost the key factor? In this example, the objective of travelling to China from a starting point at London should also include expected arrival time, for example.

You may also want to visualise the journey and even think about what you’ll do once you’ve arrived. Business objectives should also be quantifiable, with a target and deadline for when this should be achieved. In addition, it’s always a good idea to think about what the next steps should be once the target has been reached.

The travel options become the strategies. If the aim is to get to China within a day then going by plane may be the only strategy. Conversely if the aim is to see multiple locations on the way, then travelling overland would probably be a better strategy.

Photo by Colleen Curnutte, taken in Shanghai, China.

Welcome to Shanghai

The problem however is knowing when you’ve arrived, and your progress – so you also need to monitor these. In the London-Shanghai example, this may be as simple as noticing miles travelled, and spotting a “Welcome to Shanghai, China” sign on arrival. Effective business plans also set in place signposts so that progress can be monitored. It’s also important to have a contingency in place for if things go wrong – an accident on route, that would cause major delays.

Planning the right route for a journey is essential if you are to get to your destination on time and at a reasonable cost. Business planning should do the same. The difference is that there are no dragons chasing you on a journey, but there are in business – and failing to think about how to beat them may mean that they will win out against you.

Wishing you a great year of the water dragon, 2012. 萬事如意

Leave your comfort zone!

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Biblical Abraham was one of the world’s most successful individuals. (It doesn’t actually matter whether or not Abraham really existed – from a Biblical critical perspective. He is revered by at least half the world’s population who belong to one of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As such his influence has been immense). In the Bible, the story of Abraham starts in Genesis – chapter 12. God commands him to leave his country, his extended family and his father’s house and to move to a land that God would show him. In return, God promises that Abram (Abraham) would become a great nation, and that he will be blessed.

Of course the Biblical commentators have a field day looking at the wording and what was being said. However I think that in fact, the idea is quite simple. Abraham was being told to take a risk and to do something new. In return, he was promised success in his venture. This is a lesson that businesses and individuals can learn from – and perhaps governments too.

  • Where is the safest place for an individual? Generally the parental home.
  • Where can one expect help from when things go wrong? From close family and friends.
  • Where are you most likely to know your way around and know the “system” – and least likely to get lost physically, or metaphorically in bureaucracy? In your home town and country.

Abraham is commanded to leave each of these – in reverse order, with the easiest first, and the place you feel most safe last. In terms of business the same lessons apply.

Igor Ansoff is famous for the Ansoff matrix.

Existing
Product
New/Modified
Product
Existing
Market
Penetration Product
Development
New/Modified
Market
Market
Development
Diversification

When you have lots of opportunities in your home market and your product is doing well the objective should be to increase sales with this product to this market. However when things start to change – perhaps most people in your current market already have your product – then you need to move outside your immediate comfort zone and look to a new product or a modification of your existing products. You need to be willing to take a risk. Failing to change is likely to lead to eventual corporate failure, as the market becomes totally saturated, and profit levels reduce as the only way to compete becomes price. Product enhancement gives you the choice to differentiate your product and maintain profitability. Leave you father’s house and try something new.

This also applies in many other circumstances. The recent phenomenon known as “boomerang kids” is not just a problem for parents having to cope financially with adult children returning to the nest, but also the children themselves. Although living at home can be comfortable and secure, it becomes difficult to move out when all your needs are being met and to become truly independent. It means that such children are less likely to be successful – until or unless they do leave home.

The next stage is when even product variations don’t work – as your current market sector is saturated. You need to look for new markets. In Biblical terms – Leave you family and friends and try something new. In business this means looking for new markets. These can be different industry sectors or geographies. Again, being scared of taking the risk will lead to failure – as your current customer base ceases to purchase your products in sufficient quantity for you to make profits.

Globally, many people are now in this stage of the cycle. Their opportunities in their home countries are poor – for various reasons, and emigration to another market promises a better chance in life. Historically this has often been the case – with emigrants being highly successful and also enriching the cultures and life in their new countries. In contrast, their compatriots who stayed at home often continue a cycle of poverty or lack of success. I believe that many governments see emigration as a threat – and I think that they are correct, as often emigrants are the very people who should be encouraged to stay as they are the innovators and the risk-takers within society. If emigration is a problem in a society it means that the society itself has problems, and perhaps the government should look to itself as to why people want to move. Conversely the antipathy to immigrants in the destination countries is also misplaced – as many immigrants contribute massively to their new homelands, especially when welcomed and encouraged to integrate into the new society.

The final stage is the most difficult and also may appear the riskiest. However if the markets (old and new) for your current product lines are stagnant then the only hope is to move into completely new areas – with new / enhanced product lines targeting new customers and markets. You need to diversify away from your home products, your home markets and move to a new area -i.e Leave the location you are now in and try something new. In fact this promises the best chance of all for success – as it allows you to capitalise on both current product lines and markets and also the new ones. Companies that manage to diversify into new markets are likely to grow at a much faster rate than their “stay-at-home” competitors. Of course how to manage a successful diversification programme is a different question – requiring research, planning and strong, thoughtful and innovative management. The willingness to try and to leave comfort zones should help prepare management for this stage – so that when the time comes, they are willing to take risks necessary to protect their organisations.

Only by being willing to change, and move away from your comfort zones can success be guaranteed. Do it right, and like Abraham, you can succeed and make a name for yourself.

© Arthur Weiss / AWARE, 2005-2010

Attacking a castle – or a competitor!

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The leading management guru, Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s, latest blog post discusses ways to attack a castle: Four Ways to Attack the Castle — And Get a Job, Get Ahead, Make Change.

Although the article is talking about job-seekers and change agents, the same applies to competitive intelligence and strategy, and I’ve sometimes used the same analogy in my training courses.

So how does attacking a strong fortress compare to competitive intelligence collection. Well – the approach that some still seem to think the best approach – is the full frontal attack. Go for the key contact and hope that they will speak to you. The problem is that these people tend to be surrounded by gatekeepers, guards and you may not even get their name, never mind getting to speak to them. This is the corporate equivalent of having hot oil poured down upon you.

Moss Kanter describes four other approaches that can also be used for CI collection.

1) Find other doors.
Rather than target the main entrance with your battering ram, look for a door that’s not guarded. If you want to interview somebody, don’t call switchboard and ask for the purchasing manager – as switchboard will ask what it’s about and you will find yourself in an interminable voice-mail loop ending with a “send an email to suppliers@companyname.com”. Instead, use networking tools – such as LinkedIn – to find the name of anybody involved in purchasing within the target company and ask to speak to them directly. Knowing the name means you get put through and bypass the switchboard gatekeeper.

2) Befriend the fringes.
Be polite. Switchboards get fed up with rude callers – so be friendly. Chat – and treat the operator with respect. They may know more than you think and you may get a name that way.

You won’t get put through to the CEO or CFO or any C-level executive directly. Instead, you’ll end up speaking to their personal assistant – the guard and gatekeeper for your source. Like the guards and gatekeepers of old, these people know who passes by, and what goes on. So rather than insist on the C-contact, be nice to the PA and chat to them instead. You may well find that all you need to know comes from them instead.

3) Go underneath
Often, going to the top won’t help. If the information you require is sensitive, the people at the top know the sensitivity – including their PAs. They won’t talk and you will get nothing. Rather, consider the people who report to them, or who have managers who report to them. Such people may not know the whole picture – but speak to several and you soon will. Each interviewee will feel flattered that you view their knowledge as important – and won’t realise that the small bits of information they know, when combined with other small bits, can reveal the secrets the higher-ups would like to keep hidden.

4) Go around the castle
Rather than trying to contact the organisation directly, look for people who are now outside but know what goes on inside. These include ex-employees, obviously. However others may also know information – and be willing to share if asked in the right way. These can include your customers, your competitor’s customers, their suppliers, as well as industry consultants, trade association staff and many more similar sources.

Collecting competitive intelligence doesn’t always depend on looking for the obvious source. Like attacking castles, often the secret is to find the weaknesses that allow you to gain entrance, gather what you need to know and leave without anybody even noticing your visit.

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