A fish and chip shop discounting their core product on National Fish & Chip Day. They must be mad, many of you are thinking. But that’s exactly what Tony Forgione of Captain’s Fish & Chips in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, did last month.
At £3.50 under the everyday price, Tony was only too aware it was a gamble. If he normally sells 200, he had to reach 300 just to break even. Get enough customers in and Captain’s could well be up, but if it doesn’t Tony could be left footing a rather large loss. But past experience has told him it would be a gamble worth making: when he did it two years ago, food flew out the door. So successful was it that it was repeated last year, and this time around Tony threw in a homemade tartare sauce for good measure.
“The way I see it is if you’re trying to sell extra fish and chips you have to do it on a day when people are already having fish and chips,” explains Tony. “There’s no point having National Fish & Chip Day on a Monday. Some people will say: “It’s crazy doing it on a Friday, we’re busy enough,” but what’s wrong with being even busier.
“We want to catch the people who would be having a kebab because it’s takeaway night.
“We’re doing it to gain trade later in the year. And even if we do take a hit now, we’re hoping they come back again. A promotion like this brings attention to the shop. I might not see some of them again for a while but they now know I’m here.”
Although remaining tight-lipped about the actual figures on the day, the deal had the desired effect. While some customers arrived clutching their £5 in anticipation, others walking past and intrigued by the commotion, bunting and free Pimms being handed out, ended up treating the family to a chippy tea.
“It was a great success and it increased turnover hugely,” says Tony. “Trade was constant, but actually it was one of the easiest days of the year because I knew what everyone was going to have - cod and chips. There’s no suspense. It’s in and out and we’re turning over the customers quicker than usual.”
Tony comes from a family of avid friers: his two brothers also own shops in the local area, Sidney & Sons just half a mile up the road from Captain’s and Nazeing just under two miles away. Plus, there’s also a fourth, Luigi’s in Harlow, Essex.
The close proximity was no coincidence, but a shrewd business decision as it meant between them, the three brothers could control the customer base. If Tony wants to shut on a Monday, he can and customers simply go to Sidney & Sons. Anyone wanting fish and chips after 9pm on a Friday knows to go to Nazeing, which is open until 10pm. Tony comments: “If you go to London, you can walk down any street and within 200m there will be three Pret a Mangers. They don’t give you the option to go somewhere else. Okay, one might do better than the other, but they are always there.”
Having the back-up of his brothers close by also means that services Tony can’t offer, his siblings can, for example, delivery. Tony adds: “My small shop with its five pan range can’t cope with deliveries, but at Sidney & Sons my brother has a seven pan range with a counter at the front and back. Delivery will work there so that’s what we’re going to do and I’ll direct my customers there. At the end of the day, I need to look after the customers that are willing to come through my door.”
Thinking like a businessman is something that is always at the forefront of Tony’s mind and he believes you can’t have a corner shop mentality these days if you are to survive, adding: “With a fish and chip shop, you have good years and bad years. You have years when potato prices are cheap and years when they are expensive. And the same with fish. But you don’t run a business over a week or a month, you run it over a period of time much longer than that, so you have to prepare for these things before they happen.”
WALL TO WALL
Three years ago, Captain’s underwent a complete refurbishment and installed a picture wall including images of all the great moments and icons of British history. “The wall has become a real feature,” explains Tony. “It’s a talking point while people sit and wait. I hear them say “I remember that,” or they see something they didn’t see last time. It really brings people together and narrows down that waiting time.”
Having been trading on Hoddesdon high street for 20 years now, Tony puts much of his success down to being kept on his toes and seeing a positive in every negative. For example, two years ago, when Subway pitched up next door offering £4 Subs at lunchtime, Tony decided to fight fire with fire and introduce his own £4.30 sausage, chips and drink meal.
“Subway pulls in a lot of the kids from the local college and now I see them stop, look at my sign and come in,” he explains. “Subway actually brings the customers in so I don’t see them as competition. They do me more favours than bad.”
Although he admits he finds the job harder now, Tony says the most difficult aspect is not taking his eye off the ball, concluding: “Something I learned during the recession is not to worry about what comes through the front door but what goes out the back door. We always made sure our prices were right, that we didn’t have wastage and that we maintained quality. We couldn’t put up our prices, it was a recession, we would have lost our customers. So you always have to think of other ways to survive.”