Kudos enjoys retail success

14/11/2013 - 09:57
Jon Pryce, managing director for nearly nine years, talks about how the retail revolution in the venue catering business has transformed the way Kudos does business. David Foad reports

Tell me about the structure of your business.
Jon Pryce: Take the story back a bit to when we were Crown Venue Catering (CVC), and we were traditional conference caterers. We had some contract business with fixed terms and that was the difference from the investment and commercial side of catering: risk and reward. Conferences are still an important part of the business, but we’re much more retail-led these days. Business centres want retail outlets as the minimum.

How have you changed your business model as result?
We’re focused now on delivering a lot of new concepts, from food to sales to packaging. On the staff side, we now look for business managers rather than old-style catering managers. Today, you need a different type of personnel because we’ve got a real focus on retail. We’re enjoying successes inwardly and we’re very proud of what we deliver. Everywhere we have a really retail-focused operation we now have a project in place that will enhance the offer.

What’s the reaction been to this development?
I know we’re being taken seriously because we’re being asked to bid by the eight or nine consultants who do most of the business. We’re even being approached by stand-alone retail venues and visitor attractions – something that just wouldn’t have happened even two or three years ago.

Who are your major competitors?
Benugo, Harbour & Jones, and Payne and Gunter are three good operators in the venue market who spring to mind. But we want to compete and to do this we’ve shifted the focus to retail and we’re now confident in our abilities. For example, 50% of our business at Northampton Saints rugby club’s Franklin’s Gardens ground is now retail, including bars and food sales. Is that true retail? Not everyone might agree, but that’s how I define it.

You seem to have won a lot of new contracts recently.
We were delighted to be awarded Media City in Salford, a retail outlet in the centre of what I believe will be like Canary Wharf – the start of something big. On the back of the success we’ve had at the café in the visitor centre, we’ve been approached by a studio and added a café pod – an important opportunity for the future.

Tell me about Kudos innovation.
We’ve invested in three Haute Dogs vans – a high-quality-sausage street-food concept – and I don’t know of any other retail operator that had anything like it when we got them two years ago. We use them at Northampton Saints and it’s the future. Street food until now has been really London-centric, but it’s is playing more of part in the provinces. It’s a very flexible option – every customer wants something bespoke, so it gives us the scope to do that and it’s very on trend.

Where do you get your ideas?
We’ve got a creative project manager and we have recruited foodies. I don’t just mean in the way that I might call myself a foodie because I enjoy it; they live and breathe it as part of their leisure life as well as professionally. They went to Shoreditch recently in their own time to try new trends and then see how they might flex that into fixed venue contracts, delivering value and attracting customers. It’s crazy, not corporate but pure innovation and creativity. They get their kicks out of it.

How is the business changing?
The business mix is changing by default, but retail is now a segment we want to work hard at being serious about. We have 45% retail sales, 18 fixed venues, a senior management team of directors, and the foodie part, which is relatively new. I rebranded in depth because, although we were experts and respected in venue catering, we had lost our focus and forgotten we were food people. We ran the business smartly and professionally, but I changed our focus on food, not just on the retail side but across the business. Foodie is a good description of Kudos now. We’ve still got some fixed term contracts, we know we do a good job and we’re a financially stable company, but now when it comes to the food criteria potential clients say ‘We know you’ve got good food’. And I’m chuffed to bits when I hear that.

How important is training?
We have menu innovation with a focus, in part, on the retail, but I have changed our training on food. We now do it centrally; under food director Frank Bordoni, the team create menus that they take out on roadshows targeting three lots of people: clients, salespeople and chefs. They show them what the food looks and tastes like, how it’s displayed, and how it’s sold. It’s important, though, that each one is bespoke to each venue, and we give every head chef the ability to change things because we know everyone has to be a salesman.

How does it work being part of a bigger group?
Crown Group offers us PR, communications, marketing skills, websites, venue reservations and a central sales operation that puts business into the venues. There’s no cost to that and I enjoy the benefit of it. They also offer HR, payroll and VAT returns services, which all allows me to concentrate on running the food side of the business.

What does the future hold for Kudos?
We’re a company with every opportunity to grow. We’ve given ourselves another target market to attack with our retail skills and ability. We’re selective about the opportunities we go for. We’re not about growth for the sake of it. When we look at a potential contract, we’ve got to understand how we can add value and make profit out of it, and the client relationship has got to be right. When we’re being interviewed, we’re asking ourselves: ‘Can we improve and enhance it and meet their aspirations?’ I stay with the business from the initial contact and the walk-through and, even once the contract is signed, they will continue to see me and deal with me. I think that attention has won us contracts.

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