Viewpoint: Vikesh Patel on building a multichannel hospitality business

05 August 2021
Viewpoint: Vikesh Patel on building a multichannel hospitality business

The pandemic has forced every business to adapt, and brands with a multichannel approach will be one step ahead of the competition. Vikesh Patel explains how he has adapted operations at Patisserie Valerie.

One permanent after-effect of the Covid pandemic is that many hospitality operators have had to reinvent themselves as multichannel businesses, with the necessary investment in staffing and systems that follows.

In March 2020, my colleague James Fleming and I took over as chief executive and chief operating officer respectively of Patisserie Valerie, following its acquisition by Causeway Capital Partners and merger with the Bakers + Baristas brand, which we already operated.

Within weeks, like every operator, we had to respond to the pandemic, which meant a rethink of every aspect of the business. Pre-Covid, all of our sales were through bricks and mortar: the shops on the high street, shopping malls and in transport hubs. When Covid forced us to close, our customers told us that they missed our products. So, we added an additional channel to the business, selling our handmade, fresh cream cakes and gâteaux direct to customers online.

The cakes are made centrally, at our bakery in Birmingham, and shipped around the country. We invested in a reliable online ordering system and found a dependable logistics partner, DPD, and we redeployed staff. When our stores reopened we found that, by default, we were now running a multichannel business, with both retail and online sales.

At that point Bizimply, our workforce management system provider, which is also owned by Causeway Capital Partners, gave us robust support to ensure that our employee costs were allocated to the correct channel. There were people making and packing cakes for both the retail and the online channels.

From a finance perspective, being able to allocate labour costs across channels enables us to see where efficiencies can be implemented and to understand how each channel is performing. The peaks and troughs of online and retail demand are different. Now, when key events come around, such as Mother's Day, we can reallocate staff quickly and clock them out of one part of the business and into another.

We can generate a report that tells us where each member of staff has worked and the finance department can allocate costs accordingly. Robust forecasting enables us to predict when the different channels will be busy, and ensure that we schedule staff accordingly.

We operate a next-day delivery model, and we sell a lot of products for special occasions, and so it's imperative that we don't let customers down. That puts pressure on the business to have the right inventory, and to get staffing levels and logistics correct.

Operating the retail business alongside online sales required us to bring additional labour on board, but Bizimply gives us the insight necessary to ensure that we don't overstaff, or just as importantly understaff, the different parts of the business.

I believe consumers now have a multi- channel expectation of the hospitality brands they buy from. We now have a reach across the whole country, whereas before lockdown, it was within a certain radius of each store. Consumers know our products and know they can get them delivered at a time and place that fits around their commitments. The key is that once a brand proves to the consumer it can be trusted, the consumer will trust it across multiple sales channels.

Consumers now have a multichannel expectation of the hospitality brands they buy from

Vikesh Patel is chief operating officer at Patisserie Valerie

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