All four have had to make important decisions about the future direction of their businesses, but remain positive about future growth and how to achieve it.
FishWorks, the fishmonger-cum-restaurant chain, has set itself a goal of 14 new outlets over the next four years. Manchester-based Love Saves the Day is looking to develop a franchise scheme, while both Out of This World and Off the...Vine have identified the best way to progress in terms of store size and ranges. We caught up with them to find out how things were going.
It has been a busy but successful few months for FishWorks, according to the chain’s business director Roy Morris.
In April it won the best fish restaurant awards at the ITV London restaurant awards. It also recorded its first profit - £158,000 for the year to February 28 - after four years of losses.
This was followed last month by a successful AIM flotation designed to raise the capital necessary for the group’s expansion plan of 14 new outlets over the next four years.
Morris says the company has come a long way in eight years and its blend of fishmongers-cum-restaurants is beginning to make a real impact.
He is keen to emphasise the importance of the retail aspect of FishWorks and humorously refers to its premises as being fishmongers with tables.
“My business partner Mitchell Tonks was originally a fishmonger first and foremost and it is not an easy business to get right,” he explains.
FishWorks has just agreed to run the fishmongers for Harvey Nichols in London.
The link up will begin in July and Morris says it is a fantastic recognition of FishWorks’ retail credentials.
“Harvey Nichols told us they wanted to combine two strong brands. It is great that a business of that calibre sees us as such a strong brand and, most importantly, as a good retailer,” he says.
Once the Harvey Nichols operation has opened, FishWorks will turn its attention to its next opening in Islington, North London.
Morris jokes that he had planned to retire two years ago, but with all that is currently taking place with the company, he is happy to admit that retirement now seems a long way off.
Manchester-based café bar, wine merchant and fine food retailer Love Saves the Day has had a hectic three months since moving its flagship store to new premises in February.
Co-founder Becky Joyce says that a combination of the increased space and opening an hour earlier in the morning has already returned a 30% uplift in sales.
The move has enabled Love Saves the Day to develop stronger relationships with small suppliers and producers.
It is halfway through a series of suggestively titled ‘Regional Love Events’. The love refers, of course, to the food and drink.
Cheshire was the focus in April, while customers were invited to Love Manchester in May. The next events will take place this month celebrating produce from Cumbria, followed by Love Merseyside and Lancashire events in July.
Joyce is keen to emphasis how willing she is to support local producers and says that the events represent much more than just a stunt.
“Because many of these companies are small rural producers, there is sometimes an element of cynicism about urban retailers and they tend to operate mainly through rural markets and farm shops.
“In reality, the biggest consumers are urban dwellers so this gives them a great opportunity to target those consumers,” she explains.
Joyce says that things are beginning to settle down with the new store and she and husband Chris are now ready to look at new opportunities.
“There is still a lot happening with the business in that we are also relaunching our club, but we are ready to look at what might be next. There are no concrete plans as yet but we are seriously looking at the possibility of two franchise stores, also in the Manchester area.”
While the makers of ready meals must groan every time they see or hear mention of Sudan 1 or Para Red, it is music to the ears of organic retailers.
Jon Walker, business development director of organic and fair trade supermarket group Out of This World, says that the latest food scares add to a growing concern among the public about where their food comes from.
He explains: “Sudan 1 and Para Red are definitely factors that propel people towards organic food. Ever since the first issues were raised over genetic modification a few years back, people have taken more of an interest in organics. Also the myths that organics are not beneficial to health are beginning to disappear.”
Walker points out that these are all factors that have helped Out of This World to grow sales by 30% in the past year. The group, which currently operates three stores in the north of England, is actively looking to expand, having just completed the refurbishment of its Nottingham store.
According to Walker, the time is right to look to grow the estate, but finding suitable sites is proving a tough challenge.
“Getting the right location is crucial. We are looking for stores of around 3,000 sq ft. Of course, they have to be in the right kind of retail environment, as well as in fairly affluent areas where people are going to actively seek out organic, fair trade and local produce,” he says.
Walker remains confident that people are looking for Out of This World’s alternative shopping experience. He adds: “The UK is now the largest market for fairly traded goods and we are continuing to grow our range of fair trade lines as well as organics.”
Of our four Ones to Watch companies, only Off the Vine has scaled down its operations since February.
The high-street wine merchant had three stores in the south east of England when we last visited, but it has since offloaded its St Albans store, reducing its portfolio to two stores.
However, according to co-owner Morgan Hay, this does not reflect any poor performance by the company, but simply the fact that it is still working out which store formats are most suitable to Off the Vine’s needs.
Hay says: “Business and sales are doing very well. However, when we started the company a year ago, we were not sure what sort of format would suit us best. The St Albans store was only around 350 sq ft compared with our Hove store, which is 800 sq ft. At the time we thought that the larger store format would be the biggest risk, but this has been our strongest performer.”
Hay explains that the St Albans store was simply not big enough to offer the full range that Off the Vine wants to offer. He also confirms, along with Piers Hamilton, a fellow ex-Thresher director with whom he set up the business, that they still want to increase the number of stores.
“A year on, we have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t. When we start looking at further sites, we now know that we need a store of a certain size to make things work,” he says.
Before Hay and Hamilton start looking to expand, however, they are gearing up for the important summer trading period. Hay says: “Particularly in Hove, summer is busier even than Christmas for wine sales, so it is vital that we get our offer right. There will be a lot of activity in the next couple of months.”