March 13, 2019 |
Everyone seems to develop concepts – interior designers, communications agencies, F&B consultancies, chefs, operators – everyone is at it. I have endured the misery of sitting through concept presentations delivered by strategically devoid, excited people who have just watched an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It is easy to pull a load of images of funky seats and artistically plated food from the internet and pass it off as a concept.
So, it would be useful to ask what a concept is? In dictionary terms it is an ‘abstract idea, a plan or an intention’. Concept stores from giants such as Nike showcased their future innovations and, whilst you could not buy anything, it was supposed to connect you on a subliminal level with the brand.
Ok so what is a brand? In dictionary terms it is the overall experience of a customer that distinguishes an organisation or product from its rivals. So, whilst a concept lives in the minds of individuals, brands are real and tangible.
The legions of concept developers who walk this earth should understand this difference. Creating a concept deck that is divorced from reality is a whole different ball game to a living, breathing brand that is trying to craft repeatable, memorable experiences for its consumer.
Given this I thought it would be useful to look at what actually happens in the F&B space and propose some alternatives.
We have written before on research and how the F&B industry appears to think it above research and instead rely on following food trends or trusting the gut instinct of the appointed ‘expert’. The former is foolhardy and the latter is internally facing and totally reliant on the ability of said expert to understand the complicated nuances of creating customer experiences.
An alternative approach would be to conduct demand and supply-side research to form a deep understanding of your consumers, their behaviours and engage in some level of conversation to gain insights. You can use that, along with the operator’s insights, to form an outwardly facing strategy.
Don’t think location is everything. The ubiquitous phrase ‘location, location, location’ has been used a sweeping statement to suggest that if you don’t look for a location first then you will fail. It should come as no surprise as that this phrase, whilst having differing potential sources, comes from the world of real estate, whose job it is to rent/sell you the property on which they make the most commission.
An alternative approach would be to develop your real estate strategy based on your primary audience’s needs, which you will have derived from your research. In that way you are keeping your customer first and the agent at bay.
Remember the brand you are developing is a place of business not your living room. You can have as many chandeliers hanging from the roof but that is not going to make more people come and spend money with you. Part of your planning will include budgeting and a large part of that will be design, equipment and fit out costs. So, given you know that why would you allow a designer to go wild and design something they can submit for another award?
An alternative approach would be to make your designer responsible for the budget and reward them for coming in under budget as opposed to allowing them to charge variation costs.
In line with the above, keeping your costs as low as possible is the only way of maintaining cashflows when times are tough. If you have spunked your way through your capital and have started using operating working capital to buy more chandeliers then you are going to be facing a harsh reality in the not too distant future. Unfortunately, egos drive the restaurant industry and the money isn’t always coming from the operator. How many family-owned and run restaurants have you seen that are shining trophies of their ego?
An alternative approach would be to understand the economics of the brand, which will be part of your strategy, make sure all costs are controlled, have a 30% contingency in the budget and choose investors with long-term perspectives on returns.
If you have conducted research, developed a sound strategy and minimised your costs then there should be no need to tinker. At the end of the day a concept is a brand, whose equity is built upon the twin peaks of consistency and frequency. So be consistent and frequent. If however you have gone hell for leather and developed a concept that is ill-conceived, internally focused, cost heavy but hey it looks beautiful then tinker away.
The correct approach would be to not tinker because you don’t need to.
So, to create a brand you need to consider all parts of the consumer journey and not just design which, in my opinion, is an outcome of strategy, which in turn is an outcome of research. But way too many people use design to develop a strategy and dismiss any research they may come across as being irrelevant. It amazes me the number of F&B brands that expect a certain level of patronage from a customer who has been absent in their thinking process.
I had a meeting once with an investor who owns some prominent cafes and he wanted a new toy to play with. I suggested research, strategy and he waved his hand and said just give me a concept, no need for research and strategy.
That toy remains in his head to this day.
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