What is your competitive advantage?

We can all easily convince ourselves that our business is different. We can believe your product or service is truly ground-breaking.

“If customers could see how good we are…”

“If people realised how we could help them”

“Don’t people realise our product is of better quality than….”

I am sure you have probably uttered something similar either recently or in times past. When customers do understand and believe the advantage of buying from you rather than your competitor, it makes the difference.

Whether you’re making jet engines, selling advertising space or financial services, you have to show why you are a better choice than your competitors.

It’s also important to recognise that one of your competitors might be inaction or something totally different.

A customer may decide your time-saving solution is not for them and stick with a heavy workload or may decide to save time in a completely different way. The competition isn’t always a rival company.

So with all this in mind, we reach two key points.

What makes you different from the competition? What is your value proposition?

People have to see and believe your value for themselves. Customers must understand and appreciate your value and place in the market.

Does this resonate with you? The reason many are frustrated is that in an attempt to prove their value to the market, they miss the obvious. It’s not what you say, it is what is interpreted. Everything we do to promote our business is subjective, the success of a strategy, value proposition or competitive marketing plan is in what the prospects and customers believe and act upon.

I know that developing a competitive market position is challenging in today’s world, but it isn’t impossible. I help people put these together all the time. Having these clearly articulated so a new starter can ‘get you’ is where you should begin.

I’d appreciate your thoughts?




The International Hotel and Property Awards 2019 – The Angel Hotel, Bury St. Edmunds

We are delighted to discover that The Angel Hotel, in Bury St Edmunds, part of the Gough Hotel Group has been shortlisted for the International Hotel and Property Awards 2019.

Gough hotels gave us the brief to ‘modernise the Lounge, Bar and Restaurant and develop a fresh brand identity while being sympathetic to its heritage’.

The hotel has an iconic location within the market town and is famed for its association with writer Charles Dickens, who stayed there three times in the 19th century, referencing the hotel, then a ‘Coaching House’, in his book ‘The Pickwick Papers’. Taking inspiration from this heritage, and that of is impressive Georgian ivy-clad architecture, supported by further local research, we created a concept underpinned by a brand essence of ‘fables and tales’ — this being the foundation for creative descions made throughout the process of all brand, graphic touchpoints and interior design, so much so to include the audio experience and menu creation.

It was imperative to modernise the feel and use of the ground-floor space, in particular by integrating the Bar and Restuarant so that it can work as one hybrid area (reflective of today’s guest and hospitality demands), yet retain some of its ‘old charm’. By using traditional materials, sourcing authentic vintage pieces, and creating bespoke furniture, we have delivered a contemporary solution that has the warmth and soul of “welcome home”, with a sense of tradition and consideration. The light Oakwood floors were replaced with a custom-made flooring created from five tones of fumed oak, which gives the appearance of an ‘original’ floor, and the bar itself is an antique, Jewellery retail-counter, which elevated further incorporating a bronze bar-top. The redesign of the space allows for a new chapter, without disregarding the story behind a place with such heritage.

Small nods throughout the design keep this history at the forefront of one’s mind. Ink blue walls give a cue to the literary heritage, whilst the bespoke lighting fixture in the Restaurant uses handmade porcelain feathers, creating a statement and connection to ‘angel’ connotations. To the side of the bar, the Snug is guarded by a white bear head, as a subtle nod to the White Bear Inn, which had been one of three inns that used to be on the grounds. The small clues littered throughout the creative redesign provide guests and staff alike another reason to engage — providing that additional knowledge and narrative to staff is a key from us at Harrison. We want guests to not only enjoy the space but engage with it.

Challenges and New Opportunities

The Challenges & New Opportunities for Restaurants

Philip Harrison, Managing Director of Harrison, was recently asked for his thoughts and opinions on the restaurant sector, its current challenges and opportunities.

Q) Why are so many restaurant chains struggling? Is it a reflection of wider concerns in the economy, change in dining habits (such as the rise of independents and/or food vans) or simply over-saturation?

While there are bound to be some Brexit related issues affecting consumer confidence, it is fair to say that some geographic areas that brands have extended in to have been struggling with their disposable income for over a decade now.

There is also an element of over-saturation, but this is by no means a national pattern. High Streets and even suburbs in many cities are probably saturated, not just in terms of the number of different brands operating, but in the proximity of the same brands restaurants to each other.

Failure to evolve the offer and to stay in tune with changing consumer trends is proving to be a particular problem. Even more problematic is a failure for restaurants to evolve around their core values, confusing guests in the process and damaging their relationship with the brand in the process.

Independent operators have also undoubtedly taken some market share on a city by city and region by region basis.


Q) Are there examples of restaurants that are managing to buck the trend, particularly in the mid-market sector? What is the secret of their success?

There are examples of brands bucking the trend. They tend to be ones that are not saddled with excessive debt or have a strategy that is not based on rapid short-term expansion at almost all costs.

They spend wisely and are careful not to cannibalise their market and won’t go in to locations that cannot support their brand, or the capital investment required.

It is so important to have a clear proposition, understand your customers’ needs, a tried and tested business model, a distinctive culture, remain agile and receptive to outside economic and social changes.


Q) How does this differ by country? Are any countries thriving while others struggle? If so, why?

All countries tend to differ in terms of maturity of the market and the historic role of dining out as a social experience. Where social norms are strongest, there is generally a much greater penetration of good, reputation led, independent operators. You certainly see this in countries such as France and Italy where you do not have anything like the range of brands you see in the UK.

The US is an interesting example, where brands have dominated for many years, but now you can find significant independent operators in different market systems who are big enough in their own right to challenge the dominance of the national brands.

They are quicker to adapt to change and they often run very individual restaurants which are underpinned by common operating platforms and set of values.

You must bear in mind that an independent in the US could be running anything from 25 to 80+ restaurants so they certainly post a serious threat.


Q) What are the challenges facing the sector in general? Eg, staff shortages, Brexit, rising food costs, higher business rates. Is it becoming more expensive to run a restaurant, with narrower profit margins?

There is a perfect storm of higher food costs, higher wage costs, increased business rates, over supply and a failure to maintain standards. These are all going to affect profitability in one way or another, either by increasing the cost base or not being able to maintain guest loyalty and encourage repeat visits.

We believe that this will also provide opportunities for emerging operators who embrace change, leverage new technology and understand what today’s guests really want.


Why getting the right products in front of our designers is vital to being specified in award winning restaurant design.

Nathan Stevenson, one of our Senior Designers outlines why it is important to select and use the right products in any successful restaurant design project. Nathan has recently lead the design for Nando’s Stevenage (UK) and discusses what is needed to create memorable, exciting and vibrant restaurant design solutions.

“The design direction for Nando’s as a brand is a modern twist on their South African / Portuguese roots, where each restaurant design is unique. Nando’s have a very strong relationship with the modern arts and crafts movement in South Africa and actively support artists and artisans by commissioning work to be used throughout their restaurants. The products and materials we use in our Nando’s schemes are carefully researched and selected to convey strong heritage and artisan craftsmanship while creating a vibrant and exciting environment for customers to enjoy.

We have recently completed a new build Nando’s restaurant located within the new flagship Debenhams store in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

The choice of lighting and furniture are two key areas which are essential to creating a great environment.  For me the Nando’s style is relaxed and handcrafted while still having a fun, playful side. The design makes use of bespoke products throughout and ‘Parkside Tiles’ sourced handmade tiles for the servery front and decorative columns.  The tiles are produced manually by Portuguese craftsmen and creates a merger between the ancient technique of making ceramics and a modern aesthetic. The triangular three-dimensional tiles have a red glaze which takes its colour from red chillies used in the food. The result is a striking gloss red glaze with a depth of colour only found with handmade tiles. The glaze has natural variations and this emphasises the unique qualities of the product.

We worked closely with ‘The Light Corporation’ on the Stevenage project to design bespoke lighting which communicates a strong sense of modern African design. We also commissioned vibrant lighting from ‘Ashanti Design’, who are South African based designers who are supported by Nando’s and specialise in bespoke, handmade fabric products.

The loose furniture for Stevenage was supplied by ‘The Contract Chair Company’ and the scheme featured the ‘Dixie’ chair by ‘Cantarutti’. We have used this chair on a number of Nando’s projects because it has a great sculptural quality and the large back can be fully upholstered to give it real presence in the space. We use high-quality natural leathers by ‘Crest Leather’ and ‘Futura’ in vibrant colours along with bold pattern fabrics which have an ethnic feel (fabrics by Dedar, Christopher Farr & Svensson).

At Harrison we take great care and pay exacting attention to detail when selecting products to use in our schemes – selecting the right products is an essential part of our design process”