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How did Monkton Elm reduce their costs & admin whilst expanding their restaurant to 400 seats?

Monkton Elm is a unique garden centre destination based in central Somerset, nestled in the undulating countryside north of Taunton.

The business has been in the Bellman family since 1978 where Monkton Elm has grown from relatively humble beginnings; from a small nursery specialising in quality plants to an award winning 21st century destination retail garden centre.

It is a family-run business employing nearly 120 passionate and enthusiastic family team members, who are known more as ‘extended family members’ than staff! Today Monkton Elm is run by Michael Lind, son-in-law of the late Mr and Mrs Bellman, together with Steve Searle and Andrew Pitman – both of whom have grown up with the business and been employees for over 30 years. Together, they have a wealth of experience and knowledge together with a wonderful ability to communicate and connect with the many thousands of loyal customers of the business.

Monkton Elm and diversification into Food

While plants and horticulture remain at the heart of Monkton Elm, the business has evolved and its restaurant and food offering has become an increasingly significant proportion of the business, as Michael Lind explains:

“We pride ourselves on the quality and range of our plants and the support that we provide to those customers wanting to buy plants that you just can’t get at nationwide chains. We’re all about providing a first class personal customer service experience with friendly and knowledgeable staff, so customers keep returning year after year.

“Over the years, our food and beverage offering has greatly expanded and is now the biggest single ‘department’ in the business. Originally we started with a small area selling sandwiches and teas however as the centre has expanded, this has grown significantly and we now have a 400-seat purpose built restaurant with five chefs serving hundreds of meals and drinks every day. It really is a substantial part of our business and our visitors regularly complement us on the meals and service they receive in our restaurant.”

With the restaurant increasing in operational scale, Michael Lind knew that help was needed to oversee the day to day procurement function, as he explains:

“We understand what is required to run a plant focused garden centre – that, historically, has been  our greatest strength. However the restaurant with its myriad of fresh produce, dry and ambient products, drinks, sauces, cutlery, cleaning products and everything that goes with it together with supplier management, invoicing, stock management, price negotiations, delivery logistics, menu development, pricing, allergens and more – meant that the management of the restaurant has become a bigger challenge; almost a business in its own right.

“Following our expansion in 2016, it quickly became clear that we would benefit from specific professional support so we could be confident the restaurant was in the best position to achieve its growth targets and forecasts, while enabling us to continue to focus on the garden centre.”

A consultant that Michael knew had worked with a national garden centre chain and introduced them to Pelican Procurement and, while Monkton Elm is only a single-site business, the scale of the restaurant operations was such that he recommended they speak with the team to find out more.

Taking Control of Supplier Pricing

The principle objective for Monkton Elm was to assess and control pricing, which would involve a review of suppliers and the core products being purchased.

Confirms Michael: “The food industry is very sensitive to price variations and we were struggling to keep on top of these, while maintaining our margins. We were keen to see if Pelican could help us manage and improve this by putting their knowledge, experience and contracts behind us. We wanted to ensure that price holds were agreed, so if a supplier came to us proposing an increase, we had a professional overseeing this that and could keep on top of it for us.”

Monkton Elm started trading with Pelican in March 2018 and they were initially looking for savings across wholesale food and beverages, fruit, vegetables and meat lines.  Pelican led a market Tender for the supply and distribution of Ambient, Chilled, Frozen and Fresh Meat Products.

Adds Michael, “Pelican’s offering is oriented around helping you manage suppliers, maintain contracted prices, while also streamlining invoicing, maintaining the quality of food and even ensuring it is delivered when we want it.  If there are problems we can escalate it to Pelican and they sort it.  The whole package is extremely cohesive.”

Conscious of ‘food miles’ the team was keen to continue supporting local suppliers, yet ensure the prices they charge are fair compared to the wider market.  Adds Michael, “We had previously worked with a nearby butcher however as part of the Tender, we were happy for Pelican to spread the supplier net a little wider in the South West. While we were guided by price, we are fully aware of our environmental footprint and were keen to support local suppliers where possible.

“Now, our butcher is 20 miles away – so still close-by, the quality of the meat remains first class but the price is keener. When you’re spending over £100,000 on meat each year, we want to make sure you’re getting an appropriate return without compromising quality.  Pelican has enabled us to do this.”

Introducing Pelican Pi

In addition to organising the Tender and agreeing supplier contracts and pricing agreements, Pelican provides all customers with access to an online procurement dashboard called Pelican Pi.  It enables every aspect of the procurement process to be managed via the portal – from online order, invoice management and menu management to sophisticated management and financial reporting.

Adds Michael, “While it wasn’t an original objective, we didn’t appreciate at the time just what a fantastic addition the Pelican Pi software would be.  There is a massive reduction in administration for us; less duplication, no cross-checking between delivery notes and invoices. We now pay one single payment to Pelican each month, meaning financial control has significantly improved. Testament to this is that even though the restaurant has expanded, we haven’t had to take on extra staff to support the back-end as everything is far more efficient.”

The control and transparency provided by the Pelican Pi system has enabled the team to evolve its restaurant – taking it from a buffet and carvery style offering, to a full cook to order service.  Adds Michael, “I can log-in to Pi and see what we charge for each and every dish, what precisely goes into each recipe and we can check the prices of each individual ingredient or dish.  It gives me peace of mind that we are charging the right prices, we can check any meal we produce and be held accountable on ingredients and allergens. It enables 100% transparency.”

When considering the overall advantages Monkton Elm has identified since partnering with Pelican, Michael is quick to praise Pelican’s team for simplifying the operational management of its restaurant:

“From the financial management perspective, we have access to so much detail through Pi. Reporting is infinitely better – we can see which dishes are most popular and have a direct link with prices, ingredients, portion sizes, quality control and more.

“We are a family-oriented business and probably fairly small compared to other Pelican customers, yet we don’t feel like we’re treated any different from larger national clients. We have peace of mind that they are there to support us, yet we are in complete control and have access to the latest technology dashboard to make everything as simple and transparent as possible.

Concludes Michael; “Since we’ve moved to Pelican, the financial performance has met the original plan we set in place at the outset.  It’s enabled us to evolve our offering as we have the control we need over pricing and products; working with Pelican gives us the confidence to evolve and grow.”

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