Patisserie Valerie has been much in the news recently – for all the wrong reasons. In October 2018, it was discovered the café chain had a £94m black hole in its accounts. It went into administration in January this year, sparking the closure of 70 of its almost-200 stores with the loss of 900 jobs.
Given this backdrop, we were lucky that Paolo Peretti, the UK retail director, agreed to give an exclusive interview to The Internal Comms Podcast. This special episode was recorded live at AB Thinks Live, our biannual internal comms event.
Paolo was brought in to steady the ship in March this year. Here are five of his insights from a turbulent few months.
#1 Why did he decide to join?
“Most importantly, it’s a brand with a fantastic heritage. It was special once and I believe it can be special again. Being involved in creating something that could go on to be somewhere special, not just for our customers but also for our people to work in, is an immense challenge. I think it’s always more fun to try and turn something around, than begin from scratch.”
#2 The importance of blogging – and visiting his stores – as frequently as possible
“[My blog’s] got 40,000 views a month, roughly. It kicked off when I was at SSP. I had 7,500 people in my division, and how you try and connect with those scattered people is a challenge. I hit upon the idea of the blog which can be personal at times. It was an effort to connect with people and explain the how and the why of decisions we were taking. So that even if they didn’t agree – at least they could understand.”
#3 A lack of communication sowed the seeds of Patisserie Valerie’s crisis
“From what I’ve seen, they weren’t talking about the numbers. Having no numbers is quite scary. You need to know answers. Things were hidden; staff were in this state of blissful ignorance. There was a degree of misinformation which ultimately contributed to the demise of the business. If you think everything’s great, you’re not going to see the warning signs.”
#4 Can the high street survive?
“I’m a little bit older, but my life is led on my iPad. I have a young family; I don’t get to see them very often but when I do, I don’t want to be traipsing around supermarkets. If I want to listen to music – I’ll get it on Spotify. Increasingly, our functional purchases are done online. But if I’m going out, I want the experience. The brands I really admire, like Wagamama’s, do something different. They provide a reason to go, it’s a treat not a routine refuelling stop.”
#5 Curating an ‘experience’ is all important
“Why go out for a rubbish pizza? If you’re going to go out for a pizza, go for an amazing pizza, with amazing service, in an amazing environment. Millie’s Cookies also knows its target market really well: it’s adolescent teenage girls. 99p for a biscuit is actually quite expensive. So, why would you go there? It’s all about the experience.”