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Moving with the times

Adding a mobile van to the business is enabling Tony’s Fish & Chips to extend its reach beyond its normal catchment area, while an app tells his customers exactly where he’ll be and at what time

It was Heineken back in the 90s that launched the slogan “Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach”. One fish and chip shop owner, Hugh Innes, has taken that idea and applied it to his business - Tony’s in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. By adding a mobile van, he operates up to 10 miles away from the shop, attracting a new following who would be too far away to venture to the takeaway.

Priding himself on offering a top product, Hugh has been cooking to order ever since he took over the quiet takeaway four years ago. Using the best quality fresh haddock from Peterhead, A grade potatoes from Norfolk and a secret batter recipe he makes himself and investing in a brand new three pan Mallinsons range. But tucked away in a hard to find location, this was only going to get the business so far so Hugh turned to Facebook to market the shop and since then trade has increased by 40%.

Hugh comments: “We started off with one or two people liking the page and I’ve grown it to almost 5,000 people through offers that ask customers to like and share the page to win things like free fish and chips. In the beginning, we did a lot of loss leaders, but it was about putting something out to in order to put interest back into the shop. But it got people to us, then when they saw that we cook fresh to order, they realised we stood out from the rest of the shops.”

With the way Facebook’s ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ work, Hugh soon realised there was an entire customer base seeing the offers he was putting out but who were not able to get to the shop, which is when he decided to go mobile.

He bought a 65 plate van from Profry with a Regal range specifically built for mobile fish and chips and, while he waited the eight weeks for his street trader licence to come through, he attended local pop-up events, which meant he could get the van out immediately. “There aren’t many businesses that with one member of staff you can turn a profit in the first week,” Hugh comments.

When it came to taking the van out on regular rounds, Hugh did his research and found locations with plenty of chimney pots, that didn’t have a van already, and where he could stop conveniently without causing an obstruction - car parks and disused bus stops prove his most popular sites so far.

The van goes out four days a week, operates from 4pm to 9pm and offers the full shop menu including battered and breaded haddock, chicken, deep fried pizza, black pudding, haggis and ribs as well as chips, mushy peas and curry sauce. The one major difference is that on the van Hugh fries in Flavoil, a liquid vegetable oil, and in the shop it’s beef dripping all the way. Hugh adds: “The shop is in a beef dripping area, it has been that way for 50-60 years and I don’t want to mess about with the recipe for the shop as people are used to their fish and chips tasting a certain way. But for the van, it means I can cater for more customers.”

While Hugh used his Facebook page to promote the new business, it was the next step that really put Tony’s To Go on the map - the creation of an app so customers knew exactly where and when he was turning up.

“People at the press the button can see where we are going to be and at what time, they can view our menu and find out all about us. They can even contact the van through the app,” Hugh explains. “If we’re not going out for any reason, for example due to weather conditions, we’ll put that on the app too. If customers don’t know where you are at what time they simply won’t come, but stick to your times and routes and they will be very loyal.”

Pleased with his decision to go for a mobile unit over another shop, Hugh believes it’s the way forward, adding: “My overheads are minimal, my staff is at a minimum, I’ve got less costs so my margins are slightly better and if trade is quiet in one location I can move to another. It’s a great addition for anyone thinking of adding to their business. And it means us smaller operators can compete with the big businesses.”

As for the product he’s serving, Hugh believes his van has the edge over any shop, adding: “I firmly believe if I was to sit outside any fish and chip shop, I could produce the same, if not a better, product that they could. It’s a better product because I’m on the customer’s doorstep. I’m in the heart of where the people are and they can go home and eat those fish and chips immediately.”

Even better news is the fact that the shop has never been busier, something Hugh hadn’t anticipated. “The van has been a great advertisement for our existing business as we now get people coming to the shop who use the van and didn’t even know the shop existed before.”

It’s even helped alleviate some of the larger party orders that the shop used to deal with as these can now be cooked on the van at the venue. “It’s so much better,” says Hugh. “Not only does it take pressure off the takeaway but customers can come out, tell me what they want and I can prepare it fresh in front of them so they can enjoy it straight away. It’s the way forward, I’m telling you!”

You can find out more about ProFry and its range of mobile fish and chip vans in its latest column for Fry Magazine by clicking here.

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