Such is the all-encompassing role of an operations director that most have a pretty good handle on the major forces shaping the future of their businesses – and according to some of the top ones in the industry there is plenty keeping them on their toes right now.
At the recent Lunch! show, a panel of ops director from four of the most prominent chains in the grab-and-go sector outlined the key challenges they see in the market right now.
Richard Franks, operations director at Chilango, the high street burrito chain, said that over the last few months, it has really starting to notice some challenges around value, particularly in the City.
“A lot of our competitors are very much leading in with value messaging. We’ve got a lot of apps out there that are trying to do discounting and at the same time we want to go along that journey we feel like we’re a premium product. So keeping premium at the heart of what we do — as well as offering value — has become a big challenge, both for developing NPD but also for operations; making sure that we’re driving those sales at the same time as keeping speed at lunch times.”
Competition is never too far from the mind of Sheeren Ritchie, either. She’s operations director at Leon, which has successfully carved a niche for itself in ‘healthy fast food’ and has also expanded into the US.
Ms Ritchie said it is important to recognise that the landscape is always changing.
“I think when you talk about competitors, back in the day it used to be that casual dining had casual dining competitors, coffee shops had coffee shop competitors, grab-and-go had fast food — now the lines are far more blurred. You have casual dining offering £5 lunches, you have coffee shops doing sandwiches, so that range of who your competitors are is ever growing. If you look at who are our competitors were four, five years ago, there are so many more now.”
For Matt Chapman, operations director at 40-strong Tortilla, it is a similar picture. He said that the level of competition puts pressure on chains to get every aspect of their business right.
“As we go through a period of growth, the challenge is finding fantastic people and then retaining them and doing what you can to do that because it’s such a competitive market. And, as Richard said, there is a challenge in terms of the food and the value because in the last five or 10 years a huge amount of brands have entered the high street.
“When I was growing up and starting out, I worked for an American brand called Chili’s and they were quite revolutionary, but there wasn’t much choice. But today, staying relevant, updating your brand and updating your menu can be a real challenge because you still want to offer people good value and the things they want.”
And, of course, Brexit is a topic that is on every operations manager’s mind for one reason or another.
Cafe bakery chain Ole & Steen is Danish-owned, and operations director Natasha Willmans, says that as a business it has had to think long and hard about how it protects its supply chain and ensures that its products and supply to customers are never compromised.
“Brexit has many other challenges that go along with it, recruitment being one of them. I think the industry as a whole feels the challenges around finding the best people and making sure that in an incredibly competitive world — where so many businesses are doing so much to treat their people — that we keep the great people when we find them,” she said.