Andy Laurillard and Simon Kossoff of Thai restaurant group Giggling Squid, in conversation with Maxine Boersma.
Andy Laurillard, CEO
It was when I had a six hour commute each day – from Rottingdean near Brighton to Luton Airport – and three children under four, that I realised something had to give.
I had had a solid corporate career at Unilever, in the margarine marketing department, which had followed my training as an accountant and later in marketing, including time at Coca Cola. I had also spent five years as head of brand strategy and innovation at Tui Travel. However, I began to see more value in supporting my wife and her young Thai restaurant business – Pranee is Thai and we met in Brighton in 2000 where she was studying for a master’s degree. I’ve had a good millennium so far.
Pranee is absorbed by all-things related to good food and we wanted to offer something very different to the growing restaurant market. Your ordinary Thai restaurant can seem a bit inaccessible – with strange names of dishes and an old fashioned look. We aim to be more modern and welcoming, attracting customers who are looking for a family experience.
I would say our USP is that we are a Thai restaurant but with the professionalism of a big corporate heritage. This comes across when we present to banks, councils, property owners and environmental teams.
The name Giggling Squid is important. It actually derives from a nickname we gave one of our three children. It intrigues people and so it attracts attention – an important example of intellectual property. My children are now 11, 9 and 8. There are no budding chefs but possibly an England chess champion.
When it came to growing the business at pace and scale however, I realised I needed adult inspiration. After consulting BGF, we were matched with our now chairman Simon Kossoff, who is ex Carluccio’s. What Simon brings is an exposure to a range of quality operations as well as an outstanding knowledge of the restaurant market and the food sector in general.
I was immediately struck then by Simon’s calmness. Since working with him, I’ve come to value that quality – he is measured and good at difficult times. It has been a great recipe. With many years in the restaurant and hospitality sector, he has already experienced the issues associated with the food sector and we are now benefiting from that. The temptation could be to simply double in size as quickly as we can, but this must be resisted.
In terms of the changes since Simon has come on board, there is now much more time to focus on the business, with less day to day concerns. He is central to the business. He’s the big operator, I’m not. We started out as a small, deliberate team, a family operation. Now, there’s been an investment in a stronger, planned, professional team, for example, the recently appointed operations director.
And I’m seeing the improvement already. We have just received a 100 per cent score on a mystery shopping exercise, we’ve never had that before. I don’t think Simon and I have complementary skills at all, I think we have similar skills – particularly around property, levels of risk and customer insight. We’re actually on the same page. We both appreciate there are no ‘right answers’ and you need to understand issues in the context of your business. _So, we have a big overlap in terms of skills but he has more experience on the ground. Just look at the different sites he’s operated.
We don’t really socialise together – we have big discussions around where the next restaurant should be and how quickly we roll out the concept. I’d say growth is the focus of all these discussions.
I think Simon has a difficult role to play. He’s working for us so it’s not a traditional chairman role. We are both shareholders and directors on the board. _We now have 17 sites across the South East and the Midlands with around 400 employees at the moment. Our turnover is over £350,000 a week net.
Simon’s role will become even more important going forward. We will need to develop different systems around profitability and property decisions.
The next stage is to look at different ownership structures. The aim is to make us an attractive offer to different sets of investors in the future.
Our constraints include knowing how many restaurants to open and finding sites for the blank spaces on the map, immigration rules post Brexit and finding high quality chefs to work in a busy restaurant.
Simon’s range of operational knowledge, the restaurant business and the food market will help us get it right. He recently spent the day with the operations team and they were totally in awe of him – he’s a nurturing arm round the shoulder.
Simon Kossoff, Chairman
There’s some synergy between my experience of working with Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio for 17 years and growing Carluccio’s to its current scale and chairing Thai restaurant chain Giggling Squid, advising husband and wife team Andy and Pranee Laurillard on how we might grow their business.
I founded Carluccio’s with Antonio in 1999 after meeting Priscilla a year before and was CEO of the firm until February 2015 when I became chairman. In Carluccio’s, Antonio was, of course, at the centre of the food whereas at Giggling Squid, it’s Andy’s wife who is the cultural heart.
I became a non-executive chairman of Giggling Squid in November 2015 via a BGF introduction. As with Carluccio’s, we target affluent market towns when looking to expand. When I started working with him, I realised I’d either placed a Carluccio’s in one of Andy’s target towns or looked at it as a possibility. We steer clear of big urban centres given the massive competition for customers and for the right properties.
The team from BGF’s talent network connected with me a couple of years ago. They seek out individuals with relevant sector experience to assist with their investments. To be honest, I thought they had forgotten about me when they made contact about Andy’s business.
But my actual first meeting with Andy was some months earlier when, by coincidence, we were both at a meeting to discuss a property which Carluccio’s wanted to sell to Giggling Squid. The owner of the property was particularly difficult with Andy and we found ourselves working together on it. I am certain Andy remembered that meeting when my name came up later as it was quite an experience.
Andy started out in accountancy. Given that I originally studied Economics at York, it would have been natural for me to have followed the same route. My father was a lawyer and my mother a counsellor. But, I went on to study hospitality management at Hollings Faculty, now part of Manchester Metropolitan University.
I was attracted to the hospitality sector having organised events and parties at university. I started in the hotel business then spent 12 years really learning my trade at My Kinda Town under the tutelage of Bob Peyton and later my great mentor, and My Kinda Town CEO, Peter Webber. I would like to think that I am now mentoring Andy and his team.
I really enjoy cooking but my wife complains that I only do the ‘glory cooking’ when we have lots of guests in the house. My starring event is our annual Christmas Eve party when I cook for 50 or 60 people.
Aside from this, I try and keep up to speed on casual dining trends. Currently I really admire what Byron and Wagamama have been doing and, albeit smaller, Dishoom is something really special too.
Sometimes I try new restaurants with Andy but mostly we pound the streets to look at property – we’ve spent time in some dodgy cafés along the way. In terms of how we relate to each other, I would say Andy’s role by its nature needs him to be very analytical and detailed while I can take a more ‘helicopter’ approach.
The relationship is growing as is the chemistry. The business challenge at Giggling Squid relates to creating the right team and making the business scaleable. When I arrived, Andy had 14 restaurants but there wasn’t really a core team or enough support. With my steer, we’ve now brought in senior hires – from the chief finance officer to others in HR and marketing.
I’ve also assisted Andy and Pranee with issues around regulation and the constant need to find the right people and the right food. The challenges are the stresses and strains of running a business – the people element and the need to scale up at pace.
I hope I have been able to add some rigour to the business. My biggest strength is that I have been through many of the growing pains that Andy and Pranee will face in future. Growing family firms always face the challenge of moving from the early days of an intimate family culture to a business of scale. Being less hands-on and not as close to the team as in the early days is a real cultural challenge but essential for a business to grow successfully.
Fundamentally, it’s all about getting the balance right as an owner. You shouldn’t grow the business too quickly. While at Carluccio’s, we made a deliberate decision to grow slowly, that business could have expanded more quickly but the decision was made in the context of the whole business.
Particular care is needed when making the transition from a wholly owned business to a larger commercial venture, without damaging the quality.