Inside Track by Peter Martin
It was M&C Report’s sixth annual Retailers’ Retailer of the Year Awards this week. So, did the celebratory event tell us anything new about the UK’s restaurant and licensed retail market? The relevance of that question lies in the fact that the Retailers’ awards are voted for by senior executives from the industry itself. The results should, therefore, give a fairly accurate indication of where the market is focussing and what it thinks is important. The former S&N Retail boss, Bob Ivell, picked up two trophies, winning best individual and taking a share of the Deal of the Year award. Ivell has been one of the most active and high profile personalities in the sector this past 12 months, so his recognition is understandably deserved if not entirely unexpected. There were major awards too for La Tasca, Living Ventures, and Hotel du Vin. The important observation about these is that although the industry might know them now, six years ago when the awards were launched they were nowhere in the reckoning, if around at all. It is sometimes said that the same names crop up every year in the Retailers nominations lists. That in itself should not be surprising as no one should honestly expect the best companies, concepts and leaders to be merely “here-today-gone-tomorrow” types. But the truth is that the nomination short-lists have shown a constant evolution over the six years of their existence, throwing up new contenders every year. That is healthy not just for the awards, but for the industry too. Stagnation and complacency are not adjectives that it would appear can be stuck on this sector. It also shows that while the market can appreciate the achievements of the big corporate players, it also has lasting admiration for entrepreneurial enterprise. But in a matter of just a few years, those “young Turk” entrepreneurs, such as La Tasca, Living Ventures and Hotel du Vin, have also evolve into the market’s new establishment. So what’s next? This year’s awards demonstrated that new ideas are still bubbling up even in tough times. Ask’s Jo Shmo grill won Best Newcomer, but there was recognition for other innovative businesses among those shortlisted. Fresh Italy, The Wolseley and Prohibition are but three to mention. So the answer to the initial question is “yes”, the awards do tell us something new and something the sector should be inspired by, even proud of. The thing now is to run down the full list of winners and nominees and get out there to see those sites and concepts at first hand. That should guarantee another respectable mix of established and new players in the 2005 wards lists.