Sanjay Murthy Sanjay Murthy

Closed for refurbishment is a familiar sign, especially over the quieter summer months. One assumes the outlet is tired, needs a refresh or some technical work. But not very often do you see a sign that says ‘closed because we didn’t plan it properly in the first place’.

Independent brands and their entrepreneurial owners spend a lot of time and money developing concepts. But it’s when they get to operating the unit that the tinkering starts, usually on the advice of their Food Network-loving friends and family: ‘You must add <insert product> to your menu because <insert competitor> is selling it and everybody is talking about it.’

Panic sets in, and by adding financial pressures to the mix, your brand will start to lose its way. And because there wasn’t a solid delivery and growth plan in place, the outlet starts to perform worse than before and owners tinker even more ferociously. So why don’t owners put a sign up to say ‘closed for concept refurbishment’ and start again?

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Probably because admitting that you haven’t quite got something right doesn’t come readily to most people, especially those willing to leave the comfort of a steady job and go at it alone.

Clearly, this is an issue that affects home-grown brands whose owners have an emotional and financial attachment, whereas chains have more solid and long-term outlooks and periodically refresh in line with the parent brand’s research and forecast of trends. Budgets, resources and focus group sycophants aside, the principles of implementation are similar — plan, execute and persist.

With a number of independent brands entering the market, planning and executing to longer-term objectives is more sensible. The customer likes the security of consistency and by meddling, the owner not only diminishes the professionals working there but also confuses the consumer.

Under-developed concepts determined by current fads and trends combined with finding a location before the concept has been developed fully is a dangerous combination. The financial pressures associated with paying rent, notwithstanding the grace period, means the pressure to open is greater and the ‘make and they will come’ approach leaves too much room for poor product, service and ambiance.

However, if the brand is planned properly from the outset and the location chosen to suit its requirements, then the grace period can be used more effectively and the brand can establish itself with less fiscal pressure and without having to deviate too much from its original plan.

There are a number of outlets, both independent and chained, that are under-going a refurbishment of sorts — be it product, operations, interiors or a complete re-brand. In some ways this shows that the market has moved on from when the brand was first conceived and that owners have to re-invest to keep pace with new upstarts in the market.

But some of these also have to refurbish at a very early stage and in our terminology, refurbishment is the overall brand or any component therein. That is a worrying indictment of an investor who is too hasty in opening due to a fear of missing out on a current fad. Think cupcakes.

If the statistics are to be believed, residents of the UAE eat out a whopping 11 times a week. With Expo 2020 and other imminent traffic generators soon to be announced, investors can afford to plan and develop brands that will spend more time open and less time behind a plywood hoarding promising future excellence.

Sanjay Murthy is the managing director of Figjam, the Dubai-based food & beverage agency. Figjam combines the disciplines of branding, interior design and operations to deliver complete design solutions. Visit www.figjamco.com