After facing the prospect of a £4m increase in its energy bills, The Chesterford Group is on a mission to reduce usage across its 40 sites, as managing director Paul Goodgame explains
We spent a lot of time at the end of last year planning for this year because there’s quite a bit of uncertainty around a few different areas, in particular energy.
We’re fortunate in that we fixed our energy prices for most of our stores until September. If we hadn’t, there was a point where it was looking like it could cost us as much as £4 million extra a year to run our sites and, well, there’s no business in the land that could cope with that increase.
That being said, come September, we will be paying significantly more than we are currently so we’ve been looking at how we mitigate that. There’s been a big focus on reducing consumption, firstly, through a lot more automation of our electric circuits within the stores. So lights only go on when needed, for example, and if switches can’t be automated, we’ve marked them up so staff know not to switch them on until a certain point in the day.
We’ve also introduced an incentivised bonus scheme for each store to reduce their energy consumption by 20%. I was speaking to the guys at Martyn Edwards Frank Ford recently who said keeping one of our gas pans on for one hour uses the same amount of energy as it would to heat three, three-bedroom terraced houses for an hour. So we’ve worked with our managers to develop a pan schedule for when pans go on and when they come off.
At night, rather than having the fishkeeper on as well as running the cold store, we’ve suggested turning the fishkeeper off and putting the fish in the walk-in cold room. And we’ve questioned whether the drinks fridges need to be on overnight in the winter.
We’ve analysed key times of the day that don’t work for us and closed slightly earlier at some sites. And we’ve also taken gluten free out of stores on the days where they don’t do enough sales to warrant keeping two extra pans on for four hours. You have to look for anywhere in the business that you can make energy savings.
The next key thing for us is positioning ourselves as a value proposition for our customers, given that fish and chips now is more expensive than it’s ever been. That means working out how we can offer customers value deals without compromising the profitability of the business. What we’ve decided on is that two days a week customers get exceptional value on just one menu item. So on Monday, for example, they can buy a regular cod and get chips free. On a Wednesday, they can get half a chicken and chips for £4.99, which is exceptional value.
Plus, this month, with the big squeeze on disposable income really being felt by customers, we’re offering 25% off cod and chips every Friday. It coincides with the 100 year anniversary of the Lipscombe family opening its very first fish and chip shop, something we are looking to celebrate with promotions throughout the year. Thankfully our suppliers, who we’ve worked with for a very long time now, have stepped up to support us because without them it wouldn’t have been viable.
It is certainly going to be a tough year and we are already seeing regular customers choosing to have a takeaway less frequently, but then we’re also seeing customers that would regularly go to restaurants opting for a takeaway instead. After a tough September and October, trade started to pick up in November which I think is a result of that pattern and also the benefits of some of those deals kicking in.