From small beginnings running his own café, chef Andrew Scott has built a business that encompasses restaurants, event catering and vending services. His broad approach has won him HIT Scotland's Entrepreneurial Caterer of the Year award
Each week we examine a feted hospitality business to uncover the secrets of its success.
This week: Scott Hospitality, south-east Scotland
Why? HIT Scotland's Entrepreneurial Caterer of the Year, 2012
Need to know
Andrew Scott is a determined man. In just 10 years, the Scot and former hotel manager has gone from owner of a small café to head of Scott Hospitality, offering everything from wedding buffets, canapés at racing events, corporate dinners and contract vending services to home-made cakes, pizzas, lattes and fancy cocktail nights.
There's the Vita Bar & Grill in Perth, the Heaven Scent café in Milnathort village near Kinross, the Knockhill Racing Circuit restaurant Kinnairds, the food vending business in regional offices, hospitals and prisons, and the catering service that does everything from bespoke weddings at Balgonie Castle near Glenrothes, Fife, to kids' buffets at the local fête.
But far from overstretching himself, Scott has gone from strength to strength, remaining as enthusiastic as ever, and winning HIT Scotland's Entrepreneurial Caterer of the Year award for 2012.
Knowing the market
In fact, he believes that it is precisely this ability to juggle such variety that allows his business to thrive.
"We were very aware when the recession hit that you have to tick every single box," Scott says. "You can go to any one of my businesses and have a meeting, go with children, take your mother or go on a date. With Vita, during the day kids love it as we have colouring sheets, but then in the evenings we run cocktail masterclasses for young professionals."
He explains that his ideal customer would be a husband who has booked a Knockhill Racing Circuit driving experience, whose wife feels comfortable drinking a latte in the Scott Hospitality-run café, at which point she notices that the same company runs a restaurant suitable for lunch next week as well as a catering business that would be perfect for her son or daughter's wedding.
"Ticking different boxes is definitely one of the business's strengths," says Scott.
Linking the brand
For Scott, it's all about making clear links across his brand. He is clear that, despite their differences, the similarities between his businesses enable people to feel a sense of familiarity and trust, which keeps them coming back for event after event.
"There's an underlying DNA running throughout," he says. "We try to use the same chairs, the same wood, the same slate; we use blue water glasses on the tables. If someone went to our coffee shop, we might ask, ‘If you're here for lunch, why not go to Vita for dinner?'"
But it's not as simple as just matching crockery. Scott is a strong believer in staying hands-on and is certain that a key aspect of his success is his determination to stay involved at each stage of the process, whether it's getting to know his staff, consulting with a couple on their upcoming wedding or tasting dishes for a new restaurant menu.
"I think people like people. Even though I have an event manager, I stay involved. If we've got a wedding at Balgonie Castle, I'll make sure that I'm sitting in on at least one of the meetings. I'll check stock. Earlier today I was doing checks on our vending business, but tonight I'll be at the racecourse ahead of a big event."
Of the 30 corporate catering events the company runs each year, Scott makes sure he is one of the main chefs at every one of them.
This involvement doesn't extend just to clients; striving to be engaged in the local community and raising local awareness of the services it offers is a major part of the business's ethos and marketing approach.
Summer fêtes, local school events, comedy shows and popular festivals: anything and everything might qualify as an opportunity to get the brands out there and attract new kinds of clients. Scott's staff might distribute flyers advertising the Vita Bar & Grill, put on a kids' buffet or create a range of themed cocktails to tie in with a high-profile show. It's all part of a wider marketing strategy in which social media plays a significant role.
"If it gets bums on seats, that's great," says Scott. "And then they might come back." At first, the company found it necessary to use an external social media manager, but as its success has grown that's no longer the case, and Scott gets involved in the firm's own campaigns.
Going it alone
For some, this level of involvement might seem surprising for an entrepreneur, but Scott's background hasn't always been in pure business. Having worked in kitchens since the age of 14, with a degree in hotel management, and experience in France and all over Scotland, he then spent years as manager of a four-star hotel at Loch Lomond. Working in a remote location, where problems demanded ingenuity and skill, made him realise that he could run his own business better himself.
"There had been something like 17 managers in six years before me. I managed six years myself, making a considerable amount of money for other people, and I just thought, 'Enough's enough.' So I cashed in my chips."
His first move was to try to buy a hotel, but the bank withdrew the loan at the last minute. Then, borrowing money from his parents, he bought a small café, and from there his constant learning, involvement and desire to expand began.
"I found that we could go to someone with a blank piece of paper and ask, 'What is it that you're looking for? What's your budget?' And we'd try our damnedest to do it for them." He cites a recent wedding that was completely vegan - plus, an owl flew down to deliver the rings. "It was bonkers," he says. "The work involved has been astronomical."
Best business advice
But what about when he genuinely can't be in 10 places at once? His tips for managing staff and running businesses in parallel are simple: "You've got to trust people," he says. "You've got to let people have responsibility and accountability. People are looking to you for guidance and direction, but they're also asking to get paid, so it's about being tough and trusting people. We also rely heavily on good training."
But it's also about confidence. "The buck," he says, "very much stops with me.
Facts and stats
72% Vita GP
£17 Average spend in Vita Bar & Grill
69% Heaven Scent GP
20 Staff in training across all businesses
30 Corporate events each year
Favourite restaurant The Refinery, Drake & Morgan, Southwark, London
Favourite hotel The Dakota, Edinburgh
Most inspiring book Onward, Howard Schultz
Business motto If it was easy, we'd all be doing it
Who do you admire? Jillian McLean of â¨Drake & Morgan, Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver
What would you have done if not this? I tried to be a policeman but I always knew I wanted to fall back on hospitality in the end