The Sporting Globe boss reveals shutdown survival strategy

By Sarah Stowe | 15 May 2020 View comments

“It’s been super challenging,” says James Sinclair, CEO and principal of Signature Hospitality Group which franchises The Sporting Globe Bar & Grill (TSG) chain of bar and grill outlets.

The hospitality boss is talking of the lockdown period of March and April which saw the group pivot quickly to keep trading.

Sporting Globe boss reveals shutdown survival strategy

Sinclair says he took a Marines motto – improvise, adapt and overcome – as the guiding light that would navigate the hospitality business through the pandemic.

He points to key issues in the response to restrictions: adapting the loyalty program, launching takeaway, and setting up delivery on 30 April via a TSG app. 

“We were the first pub group to have a loyalty program, it’s been part of the core business for 10 years,” he says. “We built and managed our software. We already had the ability to place orders, this is just an extension.”

The app underwent two weeks testing in order to refine operations and systems.

Excited about the new development which is just weeks old, Sinclair nevertheless saw the risks in switching to a takeaway/delivery set up.

“It carries risk. In the pub and restaurant industry many businesses elected to close and takeaway is such a small part.”

The shift to takeaway has been a business continuity strategy and the business has focused firmly the existing client base. 

“We have a very optimistic culture, very determined, we never give in. We were ready to roll the sleeves up and give it a go.”

Now he sees long term potential in the pivot.

“Takeaway is not a core product in sports bars but it can be an ancillary offering if you do it at a high quality, offering a point of difference in the market.”

Franchisee support

Sinclair set out to beat the shutdown with a 15 point plan; clear objectives and a focus for new business. There was a broad buy in and overwhelming support from staff and franchisees, he says.

The seven franchise partners are, broadly speaking, in a fortunate position Sinclair believes. “All our franchisees are good performers and I think we’re very fortunate coming in to this, that we have partners in good positions.

“We’ve franchised quite conservatively, selected strong operating partners with good skillsets and financially sound, and I’m very confident the network can weather the storm. 

“As a franchisor I’m committed to supporting franchise partners, and our investment into that support is greater than ever. We made a commitment to over-invest beyond any royalties, early on, in takeaway and deliveries, and marketing and promoting.”

The Signature Hospitality Group also operates TGI Fridays and re-engineered processes to keep business going. One move was to combine the food prep resources where possible, working on menus from both brands at TSG kitchens.

TGI Fridays also released meal kits and interactive videos showing customers how to recreate their favourite dishes at home.

Investing in franchising

“Two other things were very important. It was of utmost importance to have a voice and be productive with industry bodies and government, to help ensure we are working on the factors impacting our industries, the Franchise Council of Australia and the Australian Hotels Association. 

“We’ve been working on those with broad issues from skilled visa holders critical to industry and the economy, to looking at insurance, investigating how we  can find a way for a limited liability scheme to support businesses materially impacted.”

Sinclair’s next project is to work out how to safely relaunch. He has looked at how TGI Fridays in Taiwan has continued to trade through the pandemic, weathering a 30 to 35 per cent decline in revenue, employing social distancing and enforcing hygiene protocols.

While hospitality has been hit hard in the pandemic, Sinclair is optimistic about its future in franchising. 

“One of the things I’m aware of is in financial crises, you do see people’s flight to security. When the time is right for reopening, people’s eyes will lift, they will think about what to do with their own lives. Franchising will play an important role – if you have a strong operating model and the financial sector continues to support good businesses.”