M&C Report talks to Griff Holland, co-founder of Friska, the Bristol-based healthy food concept that begins nationwide expansion next year, about his best investment, his best business decision and the best piece of advice he’s ever received.

What is the most important action the industry can take to encourage the consumer?  

For us it’s about creating a meaningful and lasting customer experience. This obviously starts with the food and service that we as restaurateur offer but for the relationship to be truly long-lasting we believe that creating meaning around offer is key to developing relationships with your customers. 

For us this means being a responsible business which focuses on the Feel Good impact of the whole business, from the food, people and ways of doing business in terms of social and environmental impact.

What single action could Government take that would make a difference? 

VAT is a killer and the rather illogical way that it applies to different dishes in different scenarios is something which puts upward pressure on our prices and more importantly doesn’t makes sense to our customers. For example a salad or a sandwich will be 20% more expensive to eat in but there is no price differentiation on hot food, therefore it appears that you are profiteering on your cold food offering, which we are clearly not. I’m sure that abolishing VAT on food or at the very least reducing it would have a big impact on growth, which of course would benefit the Government’s coffers. 

What is your top priority? 

Attracting and retaining great people without a doubt. With the right team around you who are passionate, competent and motivated to develop and grow the business there is nothing that you can’t do. From a food, service and operations perspective everything comes down to the people you attract and keep within the company. At Friska we believe that this will be a function of three key areas 1) Creating fun work places 2) Creating jobs and a business which people take genuine pride in being associated with 3) Giving people the opportunity to develop so that when they eventually leave their time with the company will have been valuable (in excess of the pay they received). 

These key pillars obviously need to be coupled with a People Policy which offers security (no zero hours contracts at Friska for Team Members), acknowledges peoples contribution towards the success of the company and provides a benefits package which shows people that we care about them as individuals as well as employees (we have private health care, cycle to work schemes and various recognition prizes which people really value). 

What has been your best investment? 

A focus and investment in back end systems has been the best thing we could have done as a new but ambitious business. Without the robust systems to support the complex operations of a business like Friska we wouldn’t know where we were. Developing a cohesive set of processes and cloud-based management systems allows us to get at the information we need quickly and effectively deal with the challenges faced by every business. 

What has been your best business decision?  

Taking a punt during the depths of the financial crisis with our first place was our first and best business decision. Opening when times were tough allowed us to learn the business and adapt our offer to what our customers wanted whilst the numbers were relatively low. Now five years later we are confident in our offer from a food and service point of view, believe we have a set of solid and meaningful values and sense of purpose to drive the business forward and have had the time to develop a set of robust back end systems to support our future growth. If we had hit the ground running in boom time then lots of these things could have been crowded out with initial success but inevitably would have caught us out eventually and at a time when we had a lot more to lose. 

How much has your business changed to combat the recession? 

We started in 2009 so it’s all we’ve ever known but we are firmly of the belief that if you understand you customer and colleagues, if you do things with a sense of purpose and meaning and if your food tastes bloody good then there will always be lots of opportunity for feeding more people and ultimately developing something that makes people feel good. Always offering a sense of value is key but this doesn’t mean cheap. Just look how well companies like Apple and Hawksmoor are doing, no one could say they were cheap but after you use an iPhone or eat a steak at one of their places you’ll feel that you’ve had a great experience and will go back and back and back. 

Who is doing something special in the industry? 

I have been really impressed with Hawksmoor in terms of their focus on people in growing something really successful. A post that Will Beckett posted on Facebook about one of their KP’s really said it all and perfectly reflected their values and ethos. (You can read the attached email on the right.)

On the coffee side of things I feel that Taylor Street Barista’s, Prufrock, Caravan and Workshop are all helping to raise the stakes in terms of coffee within the UK. The idea that bigger is better is increasingly being replaced with “Better is Better” from a taste and provenance point of view.

 Most admired brand?   

I’d say I really love Patagonia and Toms as brands. Both are companies that infuse their products, be they espadrille shoes or high end outdoor clothing, with a real sense of purpose and meaning which goes far beyond the products they sell. The have grown businesses which make people feel something about them and feeling is what it’s all about in my view. 

Who has been the most influential in your career?  

This might sound really corny but my business partner Ed has been the most influential and inspiring person I’ve worked with. His strategic, balanced and thoughtful approach to growing and developing Friska is something I really admire and quite simply we wouldn’t be where we are without his balance of the commercial demands of the business against the sense of meaning. When I first met Ed at a networking event I thought I had met a business terminator in the sense that he was so commercially and entrepreneurially minded. Having gotten to really know Ed over the past five years I know think of him as a Budda Terminator because of his sense of purpose coupled with the hard commercials of growing a business. 

BTW despite what people say we are not partners in that sense of the word :0)

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Consistency should be applied in everything you do and impact every touch point within the business, consistency isn’t just about how your food tastes and looks every day, it’s also about the way you deal with challenges, the way you make people feel who come into contact with the business and ultimately making sure that your values are applied throughout your business journey. Consistency sounds boring but it’s not: consistency of message, management and offer is the key to a successful business. 

We are still working on applying this to what we do but at least we know what’s important to us. 

Strategy is the easy part, it’s the doing that really takes the hard work but ultimately what makes the business what it is.