“It was never meant to be more than one…”
That was the thought I had when I first started in the fish and chip trade in 1980. At school back in Huddersfield, my only dream was to have my name plastered across the streets on signs and in lights but, although that hasn’t quite happened, to be here in 2016 achieving what we have as a company is immensely satisfying.
Having moved from an industrial, thriving area like West Yorkshire to the more rural and relaxed Lincolnshire motivated me greatly, but meant we had to focus from the start. We built up our first location in the village of Ruskington by word of mouth, quality fish and chips and a noticeable amount of marketing. I initially set a target of generating a specific amount of revenue by the time our first Christmas arrived, to see if it could be a success and – much to my delight – we made it quite comfortably.
In 1989, we were approached by a customer who said we should really consider expanding. Before that, the thought had never even crossed our minds, but the more we looked into it, the more viable it started to become. At this point, we were peaking and were at capacity in our initial location. Looking back, this was an easier time; as a family-run, single location we could monitor every transaction, manage staff levels and plan ahead with less stress.
The way we operate now, with three main locations, in a city setting in Lincoln, our original village location in Ruskington and in the market town of Sleaford means we run as a whole, but each restaurant and takeaway retains its individual character; there’s no way they could run so successfully in any other way. Customers often have a favourite location and that’s something we’re very comfortable with.
We planned to open in Lincoln from 1993, eventually opening in 1995 to an amazing response. My advice in this situation is, put simply: remain consistent. We opened to great fanfare and went hard on marketing. We had a particularly successful advertising campaign, including a jingle with the local commercial radio station that people still talk about today.
However, after a few weeks of frenzied activity and having to hire extra staff to cope with demand, trade did take a dip. This taught us that we almost needed to start over again in terms of marketing, so that’s exactly what we did. We came up with new ideas to keep The Elite Fish & Chip Company fresh in people’s minds, without getting repetitive and dull. Our reputation is now so far-reaching that people travel from far and wide to eat with us on a weekly basis.
This is also down to our lack of compromise when it comes to our individual style; the Elite is known for its family values and traditional, homely feel. As a second generation fish frier myself and having a third generation frier, my daughter Rachel, running our Sleaford operation, we see families grow up before our very eyes and return with the next generations. That’s something we believe to be the case because we have never altered the recipe of our batter, all of our staff work to a high set of standards and really get to know our regulars and always welcome new customers with a friendly face. Not changing our management or customer service style has meant we have a strong reputation that is matched when people visit. We consider every option we can when making any decision, be it something as small as deciding what suppliers to use for a certain product, or whether or not we to venture into new markets. Taking that decision as a family unit is key to our continued success and will be for as long as Elite is around.
This was no more present than when we expanded into Sleaford. Today, the restaurant is thriving, but this wasn’t always the case. Sleaford is a small market town with an equally small population but, at the time of planning in 2010, was set to expand massively due to regeneration plans. By the time we opened in 2012, plans for the town’s future had been scrapped. Despite this setback, which quashed a huge amount of new residents and potential customers, we ploughed ahead.
This setback was predictable, however the advent of social media and the accompanying stresses it can bring was not. Although we encountered a rumour mill and some adverse effects that were eventually ironed out, it took a good while to get the Sleaford restaurant and takeaway off the ground. But thanks to our unerring devotion to our own ideals and standards, it’s now successful and popular within the town.
Making it through various trials and tribulations, as well as some amazing highs, has kept things exciting over the years. The key to all of our decisions as a company is to trust our instincts; if a decision you are making does not feel 100% like the right one, then don’t commit. Take a step back and consider everything. We often say that you can have the best business plan and projections in the world, but something small can set those plans back for several years.
Do your research too; population and customer base has always been a challenge for us in Lincolnshire. While it’s a beautiful county and has plenty going for it, the sparse population and rural locations many find themselves living in can be a challenge. Work out in blunt terms what the population’s average percentage spend per head might be for your business and play to your strengths. Only then will you see additional revenue appear.
Stick by your true values and principles. As long as you have the right recipe, don’t alter it to accommodate others.