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Fri 24th Jan 2020 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Low to no chance, stick to the roots, and eight characteristics of a great leader
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott and Julie Phillips

Low to no chance by Glynn Davis

Redemption is defined as the “action of being saved from sin, error or evil” and was the name Andy Moffat gave to his north London brewery ten years ago. It was Moffat’s way of showing his beer-making enterprise had saved him from an unloved job at a large corporate in the City of London.

In the current anti-alcohol, health-driven climate, such a move might be regarded as a jump out of the frying pan of sin and into the fire of evil, with the likes of Redemption Bar named after its mission to save customers from alcohol and unhealthy food. It was also interesting to note that when Sainsbury’s opened a non-alcoholic pop-up pub it was named The Clean Vic – as if to highlight the unclean nature of alcohol. 

This highlights a major shift in the perception of drinking, which has fuelled an incredible blizzard of activity in the area of low and no-alcohol drinks. In the past few weeks alone I’ve seen the release of numerous commissioned research reports, advertising for conferences on the topic, crowdfunding by producers of low and no-alcohol drinks, and the launch of restaurant and bar menus honing in on zero-alcohol products. 

Of course a certain Scottish brewer and retailer wants a bite of the cherry and has opened BrewDog AF, which serves only alcohol-free drinks from its 15 taps. It’s an impressive set-up in the Old Street area of London and has delivered the company equally impressive amounts of publicity, which will count as a result for marketing-led BrewDog. I would be surprised, however, to hear the Scottish brewer sees any longevity for the bar, which might close in a few weeks having been rewritten as a pop-up to re-emerge as a more conventional bar offering a number of alcohol-free alternatives.

Going the whole hog and not including regular beers seems odd to me and suggests it’s only an experiment. It’s a bit like some of the vegan-only restaurants that have sprung up. They do have a place for ethical vegans but for dietary vegans and all others people it would surely make better business sense to have decent-quality vegan options sitting alongside regular meat and fish dishes. Covering all bases and keeping all members of customer groups happy is where the market will inevitably settle.

First we have to go through a period of overselling both vegan and no-alcohol. BrewDog AF typifies the way the drinks market thinks at the moment – it’s getting ridiculously overexcited by the prospect of the category saving its bacon in a tough market. This situation is being hyped to the hilt by research companies and conference organisers, which are funded by no-alcohol drinks companies and other interested parties. 

I agree there’s a changing narrative around alcohol and some of the research highlights reduced consumption – one-third of 18 to 24-year-olds are teetotal, according to University College London, and 50% of drinkers are limiting alcohol consumption, according to Ipsos. The big question is how much of that will translate into sales of low and no-alcohol products? We are seeing big multiples of growth with some brands, but these are from near-zero bases.

I’m massively sceptical about some of the projections published and feel we’re in a situation where the hype is being fed by an industry that wants a beacon of hope to cling on to. A big part of this involves trying hard to appeal to the younger end of the market, which has been most active and vocal in their move away from alcohol. 

This group’s willingness to call out the destructive aspects of overconsumption of alcohol and highlight the negative impact it can have on health and well-being should be applauded. Their openness and stripping away of some of the bravado around drinking is massively positive. It’s just a shame the drinks industry has gone overboard in trying to satisfy them because I fear sales of low and no-alcohol products will end in major disappointment.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Stick to the roots by Ann Elliott

Two brands really struck me this week as representing the epitome of fantastic casual dining restaurant chains – not that they would particularly want to be described as chains – Honest Burgers and Hickory’s Smokehouse. 

Honest Burgers commercial director Meg Ellis gave a brilliant presentation at the RM&I conference on Tuesday that was, well, honest. It’s a brand with a story and that’s critical to where it is now and a clear and relevant lesson to us all. When a brand has moved on from its founder for whatever reason, someone has to stand up, own and fight for that brand, keeping its story alive. It’s difficult when a restaurant chain moves from owner to owner and one marketing director replaces yet another one to remember why it all started in the first place. 

The brand story has to be the starting and reference point. This story should give the brand “owner” the power to say “no, that’s not happening with this brand”, allowing them to resist the influence of accountants, investors, the City, a new chairman, financial journalists or the loudest voice in the room – all of whom may want to make a change for the wrong reason. Many of these interested and influential parties can fail to understand the emotional pull of a restaurant brand. They only see spreadsheets. 

Without that North Star, brands can die in increments. Those in power don’t always realise their request to replace 1% of meat in a burger with cereal would come on top of last year’s (and previous years’) demands to remove 1% of meat. At what point do you stop? At what point does someone stand up for the brand and say “no more”. 

I joined one brand some time ago where the meat content in its sausage had been cut to 17%. I doubt it could even have been called a sausage by then. Increasing the meat content to a respectable 75% would have bankrupted the business. No-one had ever thought to stay “stop”. Needless to say, that brand doesn’t exist today.

Honest’s methodology means it doesn’t compromise on what was important to its founders. Honest Burgers’ DNA reads: “From day one we wanted to make the best British burgers on any menu, anywhere. We’ve always made our burgers from chuck and rib cap. At our butchery we chop our beef, not mince it to oblivion. Our chefs season every burger as it cooks. Our chips, rosemary salt, veggie fritters, iced tea, pickles and sauces are all made by us, by hand. Our chips are always fresh, not frozen.” They don’t compromise on the reason why they started a restaurant in the first place.

Meg said in her presentation: “We sell a feeling.” That’s so true. Customers don’t eat in a restaurant because they’re hungry – they can use quick service, delivery, takeaway or retail for that. They eat in a restaurant to capture an emotion and all a brand should do is help them feel that emotion, with guests always feeling better when they leave than when they arrived. 

I loved it when Meg talked about the brand having “humility” and “never being done with quality”. She talked about the brand needing to be “relevant, interesting and true”. She mentioned being human, giving true autonomy to restaurant teams, to having personality, that it all had be humming, celebrating when delivery was spot on and the whole team standing shoulder to shoulder, working together. 

Every restaurant brand needs a guardian and to be guarded – a brand is a precious thing. Of course brands have to evolve and change in line with guests’ dining habits but to thrive they have to keep true to the values and story of their founders.  

I look at some of the fantastic new concepts in Market Halls’ sites, for example, and want the founders to remember those early days. I want them to understand why they started in the first place. They need to take some time out before it’s too late to document what’s really important to them and to keep that spirit alive if they become “chains”. If they don’t, no-one else will, and we all know what happens then. Great presentation, great team, great brand.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Eight characteristics of a great leader by Julie Phillips

Here are eight defining points that will make you stand out as a leader of your company or team.

Willingness to be misunderstood
At some point as a leader you will be misunderstood. People will comment about you behind your back or judge your motives wrongly. Leadership is a bit like parenting – you have to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. Great leaders have forged enough character to overcome the incessant desire to be liked.

Show your flaws
You don’t need to be perfect! People will learn more from you as a leader by seeing how you deal with your flaws and how you overcome challenges. It takes courage to take risks. Leaders jump in, take risks and share what they learn from their failures. You shouldn’t see failure as a negative but a massive learning opportunity you can pass on and move forward.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King

Act with integrity
A great leader approaches life with integrity, honesty and authenticity. The moment you stop doing that you start leading people down the wrong path. To become an effective leader you must earn the trust and confidence of others. Once trust is established, maintain it and guard it because it’s a gift that should never be taken for granted. Actions speak louder than words. True leaders genuinely care about their people. It’s not always easy and takes some thinking but it’s worth it for your business to be guided in the right direction.

I know from personal experience that by being honest and imparting the full picture when a business is struggling, employees feel as if they know exactly what is happening. Frequent and clear communication via team meetings ensures they aren’t blind-sided when tough decisions have to be made. They trust and feel confident in the turnaround plan they are following as they have helped to develop it. Where I worked, the result was outstanding!

Handle success better than failure
Knowing how to handle failure well is essential to success in leadership but knowing how to handle your success is harder and the ultimate test of a leader’s character. Success naturally inflates your pride and it takes great self-awareness and self-control not to let reports of your accomplishments go to your head. The best leaders remain humble, grounded and even self-deprecating. They don’t claim every perk of office. They avoid self-focus and remain focused on the mission ahead.

Purpose and perseverance
Where are we going and how do we get there? Stick to what you stand for and get everybody on board. Don’t forget you will have to live with your decisions every day. Take a time-out and ask yourself what’s your meaningful sense of direction for the company? Use strategic goals that can be measured. Keeping up that direction and ensuring team buy-in takes great perseverance.

Emotional intelligence
You can be highly intelligent but if you don’t know how to handle tough conversations with sensitivity, you won’t last long with colleagues, employees or peers. As a leader you should have a strong understanding of your emotions, what triggers an emotional reaction and how those reactions can colour your beliefs, judgments or actions. 

You can express clearly and consistently to others how you feel about a situation. Your body language is congruent with your words and others don’t have to guess how you are feeling, what mood you are in or where you stand on an issue or opportunity.    

You stand up for yourself and what you believe in. You take action as necessary, being appropriately swayed or affected by the well-being of those around you but not avoiding a tough decision that needs to me made. Always consider the input of others and factor that into your decision-making process – but stand on your own should the need arise.

Willingness to help people who can’t help back
If you’re not careful, the more successful you become the more likely it is you’ll only spend time with those who can help you get to the next stage of whatever you’re trying to do. The greatest leaders will resist this pull. It’s not that they won’t spend time with other people who are as successful or more successful than they are, it’s that they will still spend time with people who aren’t. 

The greatest leaders regularly find time to help people who can’t help them back. They’re still strategic with their time but have a deep sense of grounding that reminds them life is indeed about others, not just them. As Karren Brady’s grandmother used to say: “Never look down on people unless you are helping them up.”

Positive energy and ambition
Ambition is important and infectious. Having positive energy is uplifting and the nice thing about this form of energy is it’s potentially abundant, renewable and free! Focusing on the good in any situation doesn’t mean you’re naïve, it means you don’t want to waste time on negative thinking. Taking the constructive approach – seeing what your options and resources are and making use of them fast – will always get you somewhere.

Becoming a great leader doesn’t happen overnight and has many other aspects. It’s a slow process that requires thought, discipline and lots of hard work. A little dose of humour helps too! 
Julie Phillips is a personal and corporate development coach and former chief executive of a successful SME for 16 years

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