The Restaurant Group (TRG) has opened the door to potential new supplier relationships that could reduce costs and add value to its business after hosting a ‘speed-dating’ event inspired by a social media post.
Head of overhead purchasing, James Taylor, was deluged with replies after putting out a LinkedIn post three months ago asking if any suppliers wanted to meet him and his team to discuss how their offering might benefit its 500-strong restaurant network.
Explaining in the post that he “often keeps a locked gate”, he pledged to meet eight suppliers with new ideas rather than reinventions it already has solutions for.
The post generated 150 enquiries from his existing network as well as 300 new connection requests, which left him pleasantly surprised.
“I really didn’t know what to expect but the response was overwhelming,” he told FEJ. “Both on the day and over messages suppliers were really refreshed with it and that was so engaging. I think it gave both of us – me and the supplier – a platform to showcase what we are all about.”
Mr Taylor – whose department looks after a myriad of categories, including catering equipment, for brands such as Frankie & Benny’s, Chiquito and Coast to Coast, said he was keen to see if the format would work for several reasons.
“Firstly, I am a big believer in networking – it helps build contingency solutions, to sense check an existing approach and to find new ideas to try. Secondly, I have a wide reaching digital network but I challenged myself on how I engage with them – I wanted to meet people I hadn’t spoken with before and learn from them. And thirdly, I was frustrated being prospected by people trying to sell me carbon copies of existing solutions with no real added value. I wanted to find some new exciting innovation.”
After reviewing all the replies, he handpicked eight suppliers to meet with him, choosing those that had most clearly met his brief of controlling/reducing costs or adding value to TRG’s operations.
“I didn’t offer slots to brand new connection requests as I wanted to ensure my existing connections got first bite of the cherry – again this was part of my original pitch,” he explained. “That said, I have accepted new connections since and as a bi-product the post was further successful by giving me access to more people than before. I also ignored the sneaky ‘in-mailers’ who pay to make unsolicited contact! I love a good spreadsheet so once I had everyone listed I could make sure I hit my own brief and also gave coverage to as many categories as possible.”
Suppliers invited to pitch their products were given 45 minutes each, offering enough time to share information on company and personal background and explore where synergies might exist.
He said: “There was some real differentiation when going from a secure IT waste handler straight on to someone who fits whizzy kit to our power plant to help reduce usage and then a new oven supplier. I hoped to find some potential opportunities and I think I managed that. Our transformation programme is well-publicised since the back end of 2016. The overheads team has been heavily involved in the ‘leaner, faster, focused’ work stream and once the more obvious initiatives have been implemented and embedded it’s important to keep looking for what is next.”
Mr Taylor said he is optimistic the meetings will lead to some formal partnerships being developed: “As a result of the day, I have several new pipeline ideas that I can work on with the suppliers in the New Year. I would like to think we will do business with at least four or five of these suppliers in 2019.”
And he vowed to repeat the format, possibly with supplier days focused on specific product categories in future.
“It’s hard to find time for this sort of thing as everyone is busy with the day job but on reflection it was hugely insightful and good to start some new relationships. I really enjoyed this process and the feedback would suggest the suppliers have as well.”