Harry Ramsden’s is now open at South Queensferry’s Three Bridges, but more to the point it is the first pub that the company has opened in Scotland. Susan Young caught up with boss Joe Teixeira, Chief Executive at Boparan Ventures Ltd – the company behind Harry Ramsden’s and owned by Ranjit Singh Boparan – to find out more about Harry Ramsden’s plans for Scotland.
Harry Ramsden’s at the Three Bridges is now open for business. The move marks Harry Ramsden’s first foray into the Scottish licensed trade, with partners Punch. And to mark the occasion, boss Joe Teixeira paid a visit to South Queensferry for the opening party.
The brand may be better known for selling fish and chips rather than alcohol, but that is set to change as Joe reveals that this could be the first of many pubs for the company. He told me, “We opened one in Chesterfield in March, but this is our first in Scotland and our largest. We looked at a number of Punch outlets but we really wanted one that we felt would show us at our best, and this is the perfect location.”
The new Harry Ramsden’s at The Three Bridges certainly is a fine looking pub. Boasting a conservatory and bar area, it also has an upstairs area, which will be used for private functions. The whole venue looks bright and airy, and has been well finished.
While the view from The Three Bridges is spectacular, the tradition of fish and chips by the seaside is in with the bricks. Says Joe, ‘I fell in love with it, and it was in good condition and really it was a perfect fit. We have invested in enhancing the premises, for instance we have put new decking outside which we think will make it more user friendly in the summer. It feels like being beside the seaside.”
The company is on an expansion drive and this new pub is the first of quite a few that Joe is planning. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Joe explains, “I was brought into the company in 2011 with a simple brief to reposition the brand. First of all we did some consumer research. We needed to find if the brand was still relevant. It was, although the research showed we needed to invest in it. So that is what we have done. I have spent the last three years repositioning Harry Ramsden’s and turning it round.”
He continues, “2015 saw us get ready to position ourselves for growth, and this year it is all about delivering growth. Our ambition is to open 15 new places, in a variety of formats. But the pub format is a key driver. By 2020 we aim to have 300 sites and we have designated Scotland as a priority market. We would like to have 30 here, and we are looking at prominent locations in city centres, for instance the Royal Mile. But we will stretch the brand to fit in with the locality of the places that the pubs are. We won’t lose sight of what a pub means to the locals.”
The new feel Harry Ramsden’s doesn’t just offer fish and chips, but is now more of a casual dining offering. Says Joe, “We offer everything from salads to burgers, but we don’t do pizza. In local areas we will tweak the menus.
For instance, here we have battered Haggis on the menu. It’s all about the customer and what they want. Our motto is “the customer is at the centre of everything we do.” He has honed that philosophy during his extensive career in retail. He worked his way up from being a graduate trainee at Whitbread, through various companies including Burger King, Bella Italia, Greenalls Pubs and Restaurants, where for a time he was Operations Director, and De Vere Hotels. He continued to rise through the ranks with each appointment before deciding to branch out on his own and bid for the Pitcher & Piano estate. But, as Joe explains, it wasn’t all plain sailing. “Although I got a lot of support from the City – and we were close to completing the deal – then came September 11. The world basically changed. Investors became nervous and the deal fell through.”
Instead, he joined John Lewis and worked for Gareth Thomas, who at the time was trading director. Says Joe, “He really enthused me. I thought I would stay 2 or 3 years but instead I stayed 10. It was a fabulous organisation to work for and it was definitely the best organisation I’ve ever worked for in terms of looking after its people and its principles.”
Joe became Head of Food Service for the customers and staff restaurants and the Waitrose Cafe. He also set up the John Lewis food halls. When his mentor Gareth retired, Joe stayed on for one more year. Says Joe, “When Gareth retired, he said to me, “You are good enough to be CEO.” So I started looking around for a new role and this one appealed to me. Boparan Ventures had bought Harry Ramsden’s and was looking for someone to turn it around. But after I started working with the company, I realised that Harry Ramsden’s was in a worse state than even I imagined.”
He explains, “Harry Ramsden’s biggest challenge was to rejuvenate the brand without losing its DNA. We had to make it relevant to people today without losing its loyal customer base. When I took over, 80% of its customers were above 60 years old, now 40% are over 60! More families come and 10% of our customers are teenagers. The brand was also perceived as being “poor value”. It’s not that it was expensive, but our research showed that the food portion sizes were too small. So we increased our portions from 12oz to 14oz and our sales went up right away.” He continues, “We do quite a bit of research, but you have to have a gut feeling. It may not, however, always resonate with the customers. That’s why you need to have fresh ideas. Of 10 new ideas, perhaps only one will work. I have to admit, I get impatient. I like things turned around quickly. That’s why I believe in recruiting the right people. That’s definitely my biggest challenge. You can spend millions on getting the right look, but you have to have people who can deliver the vision.” Joe has always been a hands on boss, and he still is. He says, ‘I can’t engage with every customer, but I expect my staff to engage with their customers. We use NBA Analytics, which gives us real-life feedback. It analyses all online activity – including Twitter and Facebook – that refers to us, and this information is sent directly to our operations director on a daily basis. We are the first people in the UK to use it. I get the details sent to me on a weekly basis and present it to the board – the good, bad and the ugly. The majority of my customer complaints are resolved within seven days and I analyze our customers complaints every week. It keeps everyone on their toes, no one wants to do a bad job. When it becomes a chore for people to go to work then it is time either to re-energise or move onto a new challenge. If someone is slipping we can resolve it in ¾ of the cases. In my view, there are bad managers not bad staff.”
Joe also believes in working with familiar faces. He has worked with Mike Glancy now Commercial Director at Boparan Ventures Ltd for 25 years, while his Head of Food is Michael Brown, a Glaswegian who also goes back some way with him. In fact, Joe tells me, “He’s actually in the kitchen helping with the food for tonight.”
Joe expects to be in Scotland a lot more over the next few months as he looks for new locations. Says Joe, “We have people who go round and assess properties, and then Mike Glancy puts together a commercial proposition and I’ll come up and have a look. It does involve a lot of traveling, but then, some folk say I’m more Scottish than them, despite being Portuguese! But really I’m more of a Londoner. I do love Scotland and I think there is lots of potential here.”