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Looking Shap shape

New owners of Shap Chippy in Cumbria Matt and Ashley Phillips are working smarter not harder to improve the award-winning business they bought 14 months prior

Taking a run-down chippy and improving it is one thing, buying an award-winning shop and continuing to grow the business is another. But that’s exactly what industry newcomers Matt and Ashley Phillips have achieved in the 14 months since buying Shap Chippy.

With both having backgrounds in retail, working as buyers for blue chip companies including Morrisons, Aldi and McColl’s, as well as foodservice outlets such as KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, understanding margins, gross profit and net profit was all part and parcel of Matt and Ashley’s jobs, as was souring the right products at the right prices. It was these roles that set the pair up for their first venture into fish and chips, as Matt comments: “The principles and fundamentals are pretty similar whether you’re buying a block of cheese or a bag of potatoes - you need your own label, a point of difference and something that offers a slight premium - and that’s what we brought into the chippy to a certain extent.”

Having moved up from Essex to buy Shap Chippy and with a raft of changes in their minds, Matt and Ashley called a staff meeting to see if their ideas would translate well to a chippy in the Lake District.

Matt comments: “Customers were coming in and telling us they had driven 45 minutes to get to us, which we didn’t believe at first. Then, while they were here, they would rebook for the following week.

“We have locals come in three, four, five times a week and I joke that they eat here more times than I do! We just didn’t think that of a fish and chip shop restaurant, so we didn’t want to transform the place, just put our stamp on it.”

One of the first aspects the pair changed, and which had a dramatic impact on sales instantly, was the configuration of the tables in the restaurant. Frequently becoming fully booked, Matt was keen to maximise the space, especially as like most chippies it operates a two-tier pricing with the restaurant generating a higher profit (average table spend per head is £12-15, compared to £8-9 in the takeaway). By rejigging the floor plan and introducing booth seating, which Matt knew was popular from his days working for big chains like Pizza Hut, overnight the restaurant jumped from 24 seats to 32.

The pair also stripped the service back to basics and trained all staff members in the art of seven steps of service, guiding them through how to take an order, to serving the drinks and checking back on the tables. As well as bringing consistency to the customer experience, it too has had a positive impact on sales.

Matt comments: “Sales have massively gone up as we’re talking to the customers about the specials straight away now and we’re asking if the customer would like tartare sauce, which is an extra 50p sale on the order. I’ve got the staff asking “would you like peas, curry or gravy?” Originally they were saying “any sides tonight?” to which most people would say no. Now customers are saying yes, so just by rewording how they talk to the customers it’s making a big difference to what we are selling.

“Every time we sell a pie, it’s “would you like gravy on that?” It’s not being pushy, it’s just showcasing what we offer as customers don’t always know what’s available.

“Every time we sell a pie, it’s “would you like gravy on that?” It’s not being pushy, it’s just showcasing what we offer as customers don’t always know what's available."

“Customers really like it, they feel more looked after. We’ve always got a lot of tips, but the levels have gone up and staff are really happy as they are making more money. Also, the customers are saying it’s a much smoother experience, they feel more involved and our TripAdvisor and Google reviews are flowing a lot more, which has helped with the business.”

Matt has also made significant improvements to the menu. While staying true to the shop’s fish and chips roots, he’s tirelessly sourced items that either generate a good profit, offer a point of difference or are of premium quality.

Take the new Mozzarella dippers, which are popular in places like McDonald’s right now. Selling 50 portions a week at £3, it’s another £150 a week going into the till, and customers are having these on top of fish and chips. The team has also started making onion rings from scratch and simply by buying a three pack of onions for 80p, getting 15-20 portions and selling six at £2, it’s putting further profit back into the business.

Meanwhile, the restaurant’s pre-portioned pie has been ditched for local, handmade individual ones, while the limited choice of desserts has been replaced by a high quality, locally made sticky toffee pudding, which entire tables are now ordering at £4.50 each. What’s more, customer and staff taste trials of six different types of sausages resulted in a change of supplier and a saving of £2 a box, equivalent to a £3,000 a year reduction in food costs.

Further savings have been made by switching to a smaller takeaway box after Matt felt that the previous one didn’t suit the portion. Not only does each serving now look a generous size but the boxes are £4 a pack cheaper, meaning across the year another few hundred pounds are saved.

One of the most unexpected new revenue streams has come from the introduction of Cornish pasties, an idea originating from Matt’s younger days living in Cornwall. His initial concerns that they may, in fact, cannibalise existing sales was quickly put to rest, however. “We sell between 50 and 60 pasties a week at £3 each,” he explains. “Builders are coming in, buying fish and chips now and a pastie for later on site. Some are just having pastie and chips because they don’t like fish and chips.”

"Margins are getting tighter, prices are going up, you’ve got to try and find that money somewhere.”

While it’s been an exciting journey for the pair they have encountered frustrations along the way too, for example, only having access to certain wholesalers. Not surprisingly, Matt’s looked for ways he can push the boundaries with other suppliers, explaining: “Colbecks, for example, is a good company, they do what they do well but their drinks selection is very limited. So we rang up places like Booker, Bidfood, Caterite and Pioneer Foods, got all the account managers in and asked what they could do for us. They all gave us preferential prices and it’s enabled us to extend the range of drinks.”

Since taking over and implementing their changes, sales are up by about 10% and new faces are coming in all the time. More importantly, the pair are enjoying their new challenge and looking for additional ways to move the business forward.

“It’s just having the time and the want to think what can I do differently,” says Matt. “There are so many opportunities, people have just got to look for them. Margins are getting tighter, prices are going up, you’ve got to try and find that money somewhere.

“If you’re panicking about a bag of flour going up by 50p, you need to look at your business and understand what you’re selling. It’s really not that difficult and it’s not working harder, it’s just working smarter.”

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