Coverpoint have been doing a lot of work with Clients who need the revenue from foodservice to help them with the costs of running their buildings and attractions. Just over 2 years ago we were asked by Blenheim Palace to take over the foodservice consultancy contract from another party, and to help them develop a unique, 5 star offer. There was a lot to do.
I am very pleased to say that yesterday, that vision was delivered. At around 5.00pm, the new Visitor Centre at Blenheim Palace was opened by the Duke of Marlborough and David Cameron MP, The Prime Minister. The whole project cost just under £2.5 million including an investment from the operator, Searcys, who replaced Sodexo on site at the end of 2011. The results are spectacular and I beleive the finest in the UK at the moment. The vision delivered.
Our initial piece of work for Blenheim Palace looked at the potential to grow the foodservice offer, if there was demand, where it was under-provided and how best to release this visitor spend and enhance the guest experience. This was not a cynical exercise to wring more pounds out of the consumer, but a real and targeted approach to giving the guest what they clearly wanted – a complete range of foodservice offers at Blenheim Palace, as part of their visit. Once that strategy was accepted by the Client team, we then had to deliver it.
So we were then engaged to Tender the Contract and find the right partner. Sodexo had been on site for over 15 years and it was clear that they would have to change significantly if they were to remain on site. Having taken the Blenheim Palace team through the Tender process, the final recommendation was delivered and change did take place. Searcys, the company famous for it’s Champagne bars, Grand Brasseries, The Gherkin and many other iconic sites, emerged as the front runner. Once the “Duke” had met the Searcys team, the decision was rubber stamped and change at Blenheim Palace was off and running.
The annual pass has been a huge success, with people paying once and then being able to come as many times as they like in the given year. This “value” if messaged correctly, means that they are also more willing to spend on other things like retail and foodservice if it is delivered correctly.
Since the Palace re-opened in the Spring the Water Terraces and Pleasure Gardens have both received the makeovers that were promised by Searcys. At this point I have to say what a pleasure it has been to work with them on the project so far. They do what they say they are going to do and spend the money. They spend it well, with a tasteful and balanced eye to the interiors, but also ensure that they have a practical approach to the service. Despite the atrocious weather that the UK has experienced since the beginning of 2012, sales are up year on year against the previous operator. Had the weather been good, we estimate they would be up by over 30%. An excellent start.
6th July 2012 saw the finishing and opening of the new Visitor Centre, a key part of the foodservice strategy for Blenheim Palace. As visitors arrive at the Palace, they now have the most fantastic combined facility awaiting them. A beautiful restaurant, offering counter service of teas, coffees, cakes pastries and a whole range of light food and “grab and go items”, called “The Oxfordshire Pantry”. This is supplemented by a wonderful shop, very high grade toilets and the Visitor Experience Desk, all delivered in old or redundant space in the East Courtyard, where bins used to be stored.
It was a challenging project and the team at Blenheim Palace have achieved an incredible build programme of less than 6 months to convert and construct the space. The results are, quite frankly, amazing. The “lightness of touch”, the care and attention to the original fabric of the building show the high level of skill and knowledge that the team have.
There is clearly a lot of turnover that will be needed to go through this unit, but we are very confident that it will enhance the experience at Blenheim Palace, take the pressure off the Water Terraces, where the bulk of the hot food offer takes place on site, and give people the opportunity to buy for “picnicking” in the splendid grounds of Blenheim Palace. We are certain it will do the numbers and some!
In all my time at Blenheim Palace we have been closely involved with the client team, led by John Hoy. Again it needs to be put on record that without their support and desire to “push”, the foodservice strategy would not have been delivered. Yesterday I also had the great pleasure to meet the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Blandford, the much written about father and son who have the task of looking after the national treasure that is Blenheim Palace. It is lovely to get a warm welcome from the Client team you know, but superb to get a big vote of thanks from a Duke and a Lord. We must have got something right.
Then, when I thought the day could not get any better, there was David Cameron, with a small collection of security, coming into the Visitor Centre. After a short speech by the Duke of Marlborough, David Cameron spoke about the value of sites like Blenheim Palace, the need for our National Identity to continue and why it is so important that we maintain and enhance our history and historic places. All things that I could not agree with more.
As David Cameron was touring the facility, going through the Oxfordshire Pantry, we were introduced. John Hoy, the Cheif Executive of Blenheim Palace, explained the role we had played as Coverpoint, what we had achieved and how mush we had helped. An emotional moment made even better with the encouragement from David Cameron to “keep exporting your skills and knowledge” when he heard we worked in over 40 countries.
It has been a good week, but the last hour and a half on Friday, 6th July, made it for me. I had met a Duke, A Lord and a Prime Minister. So in good foodservice consultant style, I had a Judes Salted Caramel Ice Cream – my life is complete, thanks to “Dave”.