Bill's Restaurants Q&A

As Rushden Lakes celebrates its first year and looks ahead to a prosperous future, All Things Business caught up with one of Rushden Lakes’ very first retailers, Duncan Garrood, CEO of Bill’s Restaurants.

Duncan Garrood  CEO of Bill
Duncan Garrood CEO of Bill's Restaurants

Tell us about the background to Bill’s Restaurants and your background, what attracted you to the role as CEO?

Bill’s was founded as a fresh produce store and café in Lewes, East Sussex by greengrocer Bill Collison in 2000. While you can now find your Bill’s in towns and cities across the UK, the essence of Bill’s remains true; great food enjoyed in a relaxed, home from home setting.

I joined Bill’s in January this year. I have spent my whole career in hospitality and before Bill’s I headed up Punch Taverns. I have always admired Bill’s as one of the country’s best loved restaurant businesses and came into it at an exciting time. My focus will be to enable Bill’s to continue to excite and delight our customers on a local level including some refurbishment projects that will evolve this much loved, entrepreneurial brand.

What attracted the company to Rushden Lakes?

Rushden Lakes is perfectly placed between Northampton, Wellingborough and Bedford capturing three great audience markets. It’s not just a retail centre either – because it’s a multi-use retail centre there’s always something going on and lots of people spend time there throughout the day. When choosing sites, we look at locations, populations and other activities and businesses in the immediate area. Bill’s began as a café in a market town (Lewes), so market town locations and quirky spaces are still really important to Bill and the team. We believe in building a place the local community enjoys coming to time and time again for all sorts of occasions, so the community spirit is critical to us too.

How has the restaurant at Rushden Lakes performed compared to forecasts?

Extremely well – beating targets and becoming very popular. We couldn’t have asked for a better response.

What have the challenges been since the opening of Rushden Lakes?

Bill’s wasn’t too well known in the area, so brand awareness was a challenge, although when people gave us a go they seem to get what we do and love it - word of mouth has filled the restaurant from day one. Opening in a new development together with lots of other businesses presents a challenge for recruitment but we have a strong team in place now. A good challenge was our instant popularity – sometimes customers had to wait a little bit longer for a table in the early days, but we think we’ve got the balance right now.

Northamptonshire has a significant food & drink sector, which directly employs over 50,000 local people…what advice can you give business owners that are in the food & drink sector that are planning for growth over the next 3 years?

- You can’t build a business without a great team. Surround yourselves with positive and trustworthy suppliers, advisors and colleagues and you’re off to a good start. Passion is essential – and it needs to be shared by everyone in the organisation

- Look forwards – stay future forward and be open to opportunities

- Stick to the core business and true to your central strategy

- Always deliver a product you’re proud of – make sure it’s consistent and listen to your customers’ feedback.

- Go beyond the basics – make interactions with customers memorable and personal.

- Keep training your team – human interaction is everything.

- Have fun!