By Sue Tabbitt IN The Telegraph||
Growing a restaurant business in an age of austerity is no mean feat, yet YO! Sushi has opened an average of 10 new outlets a year throughout the recession, a rate which shows no sign of slowing.
Today the business, which this month celebrates its 15th birthday, has 60 outlets across the UK and is growing at an exponential rate abroad, with franchises in Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the Middle East and, imminently, the US.
YO! Sushi, founded by entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe, is owned by venture capitalist firm Quilvest and the company’s senior management. When it first introduced British diners to a Japanese “kaiten” (conveyor belt) sushi bar in 1997, it was hailed a pioneer. The experience was fun and exciting, and sustaining this buzz for 15 years has been a considerable achievement.
Business agility and dynamic thinking are core to YO! Sushi’s success. “On London’s South Bank, we’re in a row of five or six restaurants,” notes YO! Sushi’s UK IT manager, Billy Waters. “When people are choosing where to eat we need to make sure it’s with us.”
A big part of this strategy involves senior executives visiting Japan every year “to look for new ideas about design, about what’s cool in Tokyo”, Waters explains. Crucially, these must be ideas that will translate to the British market.
Another sign of the company’s adopted Japanese ethos is its commitment to using the latest technology. As the business’s rapid expansion took its toll on internal systems, Waters decided to try a more agile approach. “One of our aims as a business is to operate with a lean head office and support infrastructure,” he explains.
This enables YO! Sushi to remain light, nimble and competitively priced, despite now having 1,800 employees in the UK. “There is no IT department – just myself,” he notes. “The rest is outsourced, provided as a managed service.”
Adopting a remotely provisioned office, email and collaboration environment was the manifestation of this strategy. Instead of expanding and upgrading the company’s systems, Waters opted to switch to an online, subscription-only software suite.
This is saving the company 40pc a year on the cost of running its email systems, while giving users much more freedom to access services when mobile. The on-demand package includes capabilities such as integrated communications (voice calls, instant messaging, audio, video and web conferencing all managed in one place) and rich collaboration and document-sharing capabilities, making it easier for the increasingly dispersed business to remain closely connected.
“When I started at YO! Sushi nine years ago, we were small enough that we all knew what each other looked like. That’s not the case now,” Waters says. “The ability to see people from head office via the web really helps. It becomes easier to see who to go to.
Using “My Site” information, users can see the areas they can talk to me about, and I can provide information that allows them to help themselves.” Internal self-service is a significant benefit. “Instead of relying on having information emailed to them, restaurants are able to access the latest files online.”
Waters is also considering embracing online customer relationship management capabilities. Using a purpose-built software tool could boost YO! Sushi’s customer engagement – another facet of its strategy.
The company uses social networks for engaging with customers. These activities are managed by the company’s marketing team and a full-time social media consultant. YO! Sushi has 10,000 followers on Twitter and more than 90,000 friends on Facebook, audiences it nurtures attentively.
“A lot of our competitors do a lot of discounting, whereas we focus on adding value through social media,” Waters explains. “For us, this means featuring content around our culture – including caption competitions and quirky Japanese quotes and video clips – rather than forcing the brand down people’s throats.” The result is an “active” fan base which participates with content, stimulating additional page views.
Remaining close to customers offers YO! Sushi a chance to provide them with what they want as tastes change – vital in a tough market. “We have to stay current,” Waters concludes. “Larger players might be hanging on despite the recession but smaller businesses are falling by the wayside. If you’re not dynamic, you can’t guarantee you’ll still be around in the future. The fact that we’re growing at the rate we are shows we must be doing something right.”