What parallels can we make?

Giles Poyner, owner of brand design company Holman Group, highlights the lessons we could learn from operators who sell themselves well

Higher education is going through exciting times with many institutions looking to evolve their social, retail and food and beverage (F&B) strategies. We have a more diverse, a more demanding and a more travelled customer than ever before. They see what’s on the high street and demand more from their on campus offer. We work with many large catering companies as well as high street operators and the closest analogy I can make to the higher education market it that of the Day Visitor Caterer (DVC). In this market the single most important principle is that when you visit one of our national treasures, the customer should never feel that they are a captured audience. This is the same with our students. 

The parallels continue. In both markets there is sovereignty from the outset. Both customer groups have paid to be there and are excited about what’s available. Both customer groups will have planned their visit and checked you out online. Both groups desperately want to buy into the food and beverage offer through the sheer convenience as well as to show support for the institution. Both markets have varying numbers and both markets compete with product brought in by the customer. Both markets rely heavily on footfall and both markets have on and off seasons. 

In short, the customer is friendly, they are onsite and they are engaged. The question is whether or not you are able to maintain their loyalty. So what do DVC’s do well and what can we learn from them that we can apply in September/October?

1. Price is not just about price. I often hear clients talk about price and how students say that they are not willing to pay £2.20 for a Cappuccino, but then they are spotted on the high street spending 10p more on the same product in a branded store. This is because the customer (consciously or unconsciously) does not base their purchasing decision simply on price. More often that not they are considering product, service and environment. 

2. There is no excuse to not capture every single student. The reason for the fall out is often down to ranging. When M&S re-launched their food offer ‘Simply Food’, they knew that customer perceptions were that the food was too special occasion and too expensive. So they anchored their launch campaign on the 95p jam sandwich. This demonstrated accessibility and inclusivity. Providing good, better, best ranging does not cannibalise your customer spend, it increases volume.

3. Make it easy for them to say yes. Up-selling seems like a hard thing to do but when every single person you buy petrol from asks you if you would like anything else, it is a polite up-sell. By offering a bacon sarnie for £1 with any hot drink on a cold morning is a polite and considerable offer. Up-selling is not intrusive it should be a natural progression from the purchase you have made. Up-sell can make a massive difference to the bottom line if the service standard is high and the product is relevant.

4. Talk to your customer and tell them why they should buy. The amount of service lines I see with little or no product narrative is incredible. Underpinning is a simple strategy that articulates why the customer should buy it. Other Fast Moving Consumer Goods will bore you to death about why a Heinz baked bean is better for you, with less calories, in a family sized recyclable can that contains two of your five a day. Provide a well considered narrative to the food that you offer and your sales will go up.

5. Have fun with the food offer. You are in a privileged position. In a lot of cases you own the pavement outside and you can run campaigns across sites. The ‘Pied Piper’ strategy is about bouncing customers from one offer to the next by creating engaging campaigns that change seasonally. A recent Valentines campaign that we ran was based on Lloyds Bank random acts of kindness and offered customers the opportunity to ‘buy one GIVE one free’. It tracked well and sales increased because the offer stayed the same whilst every store applied it differently.

This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it has provided some food for thought.

Working with University Hospitality Seminars Ltd the Holman Group have designed a one day training course called ‘Communicating Your Retail Offer & Brand’. For further details visit:- https://www.universityhospitality.co.uk

Giles Poyner is owner of Holman Group, a brand design and marketing company that specialise in F&B and leisure retail.


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