As a successful garden centre business with 18 outlets, Notcutts has a close eye on new and changing consumer tastes. And with a garden centre visit becoming more of a leisure experience than simply a shopping trip, great restaurant food and beverage has become an increasingly important part of the customer offering.
The family-owned business knew it needed to continue to shape its restaurant business, so in 2017 asked Kevin Boyle to join them. Kevin’s experience included spells at pub group Mitchells & Butlers, and at Rank Group and he arrived with a brief to look at the food and beverage proposition from top to bottom, ensuring it met customer expectations, delivered consistently, and could be run efficiently across the various garden centres around the country.
“The restaurant food and beverage experience is becoming a big part of the garden centre proposition,” says Kevin. “The crux is to have both retail and restaurant food and beverage working in tandem. My background is really in hotels, restaurants and large scale branded operations, so the plan was to draw on that development experience to drive improvements in the operational side of the food offering.
At Notcutts, we open at 9am with a popular breakfast menu and offer main meals catering for a variety of tastes and dietary preferences with our vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options growing in popularity. Throughout the day our artisan coffee, delicious cake range, home baked scones, savoury pastries and tray-bakes are firm customer favourites that drive footfall into our garden centres.
Like many catering businesses operating today, one of our big challenges is staff recruitment and retention. This has led us to reconsider how we do things on site, reducing complexity in the kitchen and improving efficiency at the counter and in our service.
One of the big drivers of the business is our Privilege Club loyalty scheme which gives special offers and discounts to members on retail products as well as free hot drinks and 2-for-1 meals at specified times. The food and beverage offering is a fundamental part of our loyalty programme and drives an increase in the number of visits from our customers.
As a family-owned business with 1,300 employees Notcutts is an agile company. Our leadership team can move quickly to make informed decisions together on restaurant food and beverage, retail, property planning, marketing and so on. I get involved in many aspects of the business which is highly rewarding.”
Working with food procurement experts
Kevin has previously declared himself sceptical of external purchasing support, largely agreeing with the mantra that a consultant is someone who will borrow your watch to tell you the time. But having arrived at Notcutts it was time to understand what the incumbent supplier Pelican as well as other agencies brought to the party.
“I wasn’t a great fan of agencies as I prefer dealing with suppliers direct. So when we started working with Pelican, initially I admit that I did give them a bit of a hard time. But we’ve got a very good account contact, Stuart Chapman (Pelican Procurement Manager) who feels like an extension to our team. His expertise and support is a great bolt-on to help us with decision making.
I still deal direct with all of our suppliers, with Pelican supporting the negotiation process. Stuart’s main role is to monitor product quality and supplier service levels, help to secure the best price for all products we buy, manage any price increases and gather market information so we can make better-informed decisions.
Menu development is another area where Pelican has been able to support us. Stuart has been arranging tastings and samples from suppliers and tracking their logistics operations to ensure the products are stocked in the right depots. Recently, we have worked together on sourcing, trialing and producing a roll-out platform for a new fruit and vegetable supplier who are able to offer a fantastic service.
I was also keen to look at other non-food product categories to see how much we could save. Stuart has helped us with compiling the shopping basket and consolidating the list before we embark on getting the best possible price and service levels through tendering on the open market. Tendering is Pelican’s expertise so this is a key area where a consultant can deliver real value, whilst ensuring a completely fair and transparent process. I was pleasantly surprised that when we look at contracts with Pelican’s help, we by and large make savings, which is positive for everyone.”
As an experienced, savvy purchaser, Kevin has also found one surprising benefit of external help. “Pelican has become a very useful arbiter ensuring we get the best deal, at the service levels we require. However, there’s a lot more support with fact-finding and informed decision making. It’s about that partnership, about being able to ask questions and get answers straight away. It really does feel like an extension to our business.”