“You know it’s right when people are taking photographs of the food before they take a taste.”
That’s the advice of Andrew D. Scott, business consultant and serial hospitality entrepreneur, who draws on more than 15 years’ experience running his own food & drink businesses.
Andrew was presented with the award for Outstanding Contribution to Scotland’s Hospitality Sector in 2016: “a brilliant moment” he concedes proudly, which saw peers across the industry acknowledge his contribution through managing, coaching and consulting across the sector.
“At 13 I looked much older than my age and was already more than six feet tall, so I got a job as a chef; and I’ve been a passionate advocate for the industry for the last 30 years. It was good to know my peers respect what I’ve achieved.”
Armed with a degree in hotel management, Andrew first worked for 15 years for other companies, managing hotels across Scotland. “Then, in 2003, I decided to open my own business, and I haven’t looked back since.”
It was when Andrew spotted an empty retail unit in Milnathort – previously a florist shop – that his business really began to bake: he immediately saw the unit’s potential.
Branded as Heaven Scent, the coffee shop is now a broad-based business. Named the 2017 “Best Contemporary Tea Shop” in the UK-wide Clipper Awards, it has also held a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for six years, and the Taste Our Best accreditation from VisitScotland for the same period.
Behind the main coffee shop is a commercial kitchen, and the business now does corporate catering for some of Perthshire’s biggest companies, as well as off-site private catering and private room hire above Heaven Scent. “The copiers copy faster than ever before, so it’s important to constantly reinvent the business,” adds Andrew.
As an example, Andrew decided to host children’s tea parties, using a room above the main coffee shop, which came on to the market after he’d bought and renovated Heaven Scent. “At first, we used the room as a private event space called Heavens Above. But for the children’s parties we wanted something special. I bought an American fridge and put its door in front of the staircase. Now the children go ‘through’ the fridge and up the stairs, where the room is decorated Alice in Wonderland style.”
That idea won Heaven Scent an innovation award in 2017.
The parties have naturally been a hit – with all ages: “You have to think of ways to get your employees and customers to be fans of the business: do things they couldn’t do at home. My team are great now at taking my ideas, and if they think it won’t quite work, then they adapt my original concept so it stays fun and will still be a good talking point.”
An example is the bike rack at Heaven Scent, which is made from an upcycled old bike now attached to the exterior wall: suitably quirky.
With a wealth of ideas for keeping the service offering fresh, Andrew has distilled his years of experience into an operational bible for managing hospitality businesses, which he can share with clients through his consultancy business, Victus.
“The one thing I wish more people would do is plan well ahead. Most enquiries reach us when it’s already late in the day. We can still provide help and support, but the best thing is when someone comes to me and says; “I’m thinking of opening up in six months, how do I start now to get it right?”.
Consulting is always a pleasure: “I can learn something from any business, and with my experience – I’ve run 5 successful hotels in my time – and with a now team of eight associates, I know I can help businesses facing almost any problem they can come across.” Victus is now doing that across the UK.
It is still relatively easy to launch a business in the hospitality sector, and that does mean many who open are ill prepared, whether for the hours, the admin or the regulations. “Competition is tough and getting and keeping good staff is an issue faced by almost every hospitality business. You have to pay good staff well, but the public aren’t willing to pay higher prices – unless they recognise the value they get back in return.”
Standing out from the crowd
That’s where, for Andrew, the real power of social media comes in: to build awareness of the business and its brand, its usp: “helping you stand out from the crowd.
“I find Instagram is good for generating consultancy leads, and I use Twitter for Victus, but Heaven Scent’s Facebook community is great for feedback whenever we try new ideas, whether it’s introducing gluten free afternoon teas or running special events. You get a real sense of what works.
“I am still as passionate today about Scotland’s hospitality sector as I’ve ever been, and it’s great to feel that every day I get to make a difference: whether that’s through coaching, judging awards, doing consultancy or speaking in schools, which I do quite a lot of now. We have to have young people who see a positive career in hospitality.”
Observing that many would-be entrepreneurs try to do everything themselves, Andrew adds: “Owners need to work as hard on their business, as they do working in their business. Success is about planning, and setting the right priorities: quality will win over quantity every time.”