By Clark Turner.
If you’re behind one the biggest success stories in the restaurant industry of the past decade, the next logical step in your brand extension might be another restaurant chain, or perhaps a venture into foodstuffs.
Right? Wrong if your Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo! Sushi and the force behind the whole Yo! Brand.
Riding high on being awarded an OBE last year, he’s just opened a hotel operation in Heathrow. The Yotel opening is the second in the UK, following on from the success of a similar project at Gatwick last year.
The Yotel concept – true to the tradition of all things Yo! – aims to offer an innovative alternative to the established industry. The concept was conceived to provide a flexible and convenient ‘first class’ hotel experience at affordable prices.
The 32 cabins are based on first-class airline standards and to cater for travellers’ flexible needs can be booked for just four hours or overnight.
After scoring success at the two London airports a further opening is planned for Schiphol, Amsterdam for 2008.
Yotel is one of a number of key projects in the Yo! portfolio but the development of the business stems back to the success on Yo! Sushi.
The restaurant chain was launched in London in 1997 and a decade later comprises 12 UK outlets and a further 10 internationally. New UK sites include Harrods and the Bluewater shopping centre, while overseas Yo! Sushi can be found in Paris and Kuwait.
So just what has been the secret of Yo! Sushi’s success?
“I was asked this last night and to be honest I’m not sure,” Simon told us. “We didn’t do well at the beginning. The first restaurant was big, there was a conveyor belt and robots serving drinks.
“We opened on Poland Street and for the first week the restaurant was empty, but a week later there were queues around the block. What we’ve had is a vision and passion.”
He added, “I’m not saying, I’m the best marketer in the world but in delivering a product with a degree of authenticity and something different, we created something with great talkability.”
“At the time I had no experience of the restaurant industry and that can be as much a good thing as a bad thing. I knew restaurants a high risk were a high-risk option but I also knew we had an original concept. I didn’t go into the venture looking for fame and fortune but I was obsessed to see what it would look like and determined to see it through.”
Simon disputes that the recent move in hotels was an illogical one. For him, the crux of Yo! has always been innovation.
“Someone once said to me that Yo! was destined to be a brand and Yo! Sushi was its first manifestation,” he said. “My primary interest has always been in re-inventing the world. After I’d done restaurants I thought, ‘What next?’”
“For me looking at hotels seemed the next obvious step, offering a concept of luxury and excitement but still believing in great value. Yo! can be seen as the Holy Grail of retail with a magic format that we can apply to a whole range of industry sectors.”
Richard Branson could well have spoken the same words with a brand whose involvement spans a random raft of projects that includes cola, mobiles, media, airlines and bridalwear, healthclubs and financial services.
The Easy Group is an other example with a branded airline, hotel chain, cruiseship, internet cafes, car hire, mobile and pizza operations amongst others.
“I aspired for us to be like those brands in the early days, “ Simon confesses, “But Virgin suffered by having too much going on too soon. I looked at licensing the Yo! brand, but would rather do four or five projects well, as opposed to lots, not so well.”
Those four are Yo! Sushi and Yotel! together with Yo! Zone, a spa project set to open in London in 2009 and Yo! Home, creating the residential homes of the future. All sit under the Yo! brand values of re-invention, honesty and authenticity.
“We don’t use advertising and traditional marketing tools, “ Simon said. “For us it’s the kiss of death. We use PR as the main means of getting our messages across. If you do something different and interesting, it will speak for itself and hopefully be of interest to the press.
“Word of mouth promotion is the best kind of advertising you can get and that’s down to getting your products right.”
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