The firm creating the look inside your favourite hospitality venues

Real Business has spoken with the MD of Harrison, the business responsible for the appearance of the nation's favourite restaurants and hotels, discussing what it takes to service the needs of household hospitality brands such as TGI Friday and Hilton.

In president and MD Philip Harrison’s own words, the company is a hospitality concept creation consultancy – one of the finest there is globally. After all, it’s a company privy to the secrets of the most well-known hospitality brands in the world.

With a range of hospitality brands on its books, covering restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels nationwide and overseas, just some of the familiar names include TGI Friday, Hilton, Nando’s, Raddison, Yo Sushi, Giraffe, Pizza Hut and Bella Italia.

“We reinvent and create brands ensuring their relevance to the target market through sophisticated and bespoke strategies that combine art and science,” Harrison said.

Now operational for more than three decades, Harrison has seen his business, the sector and the hospitality brands within it shift massively.

“Over 30 years ago, eating out was seen as a formal occasion while drinking was limited to the local pub. Today the restaurant and bar sectors has changed exponentially to offer customers a broad array of offers, experiences and price points, accessible to almost every social and economic group,” he said.

“As a result, the hospitality sector is booming – its contribution to the UK economy has grown faster than any other sector since 2008.”

As for the design he’s introducing to venues all over the place, he said that it’s grown increasingly important for hospitality brands, with TV making consumers more familiar with interior aesthetics.

“Be it a subtle backdrop or an immersive experience, design has become a key component in creating a successful bar or restaurant offer – whether a one off or a national brand,” he said.

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“If there is a lack of clarity we will question, probe, help, and work with our client to bring this to life”

On building up such a solid list of clients, Harrison explained: “We have secured household brands, as we are one of a handful concept consultancies with the skillsets required to develop and deliver targeted design solutions that provide a great experience to a specific audience.

“We’ve also developed numerous strategic partnerships with industry experts, providing support in areas such as property, financing, supply chain, food and beverage, training and development, and PR.

“These additional services highlight the interdependencies that create great brands and we understand how they generate value for our clients. It’s a service that allows established hospitality brands to outsource innovation so it doesn’t distract from the day-to-day business, particularly companies that don’t run a significant Research & Development unit.”

He was keen to explain that meeting the needs of large firms isn’t difficult as long as the communication is clear. Requirements of the staff are to listen, evaluate and assemble the parts to piece together the right design for the client and the marketplace.

“If there is a lack of clarity we will question, probe, help, and work with our client to bring this to life,” he said. The only occasional challenge that can crop up is extremely tight schedules – something the business has become adept at managing. There shouldn’t be any fear in challenging a client’s request either, said Harrison.

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The market in the Middle East is expanding, and has a growing appetite for British design and services

“It’s understanding their needs and importantly how they function as a business. Also, it’s important to recognise the value of partnership, it’s a collective journey. It’s not just about the design, it’s about the quality of the experience from a service and product,” he said.

“Being honest and open and being prepared to challenge a client decision is valuable and this only really works in a partnership where there is mutual trust and respect. All important in building great relationships and brands.”

In the UK, Harrison’s offices are in London and Birmingham, while international locations can be found in Dallas and Dubai. Senior directors with financial ties lead each of the offices and they have regular meet-ups, in person and online, to make sure there’s a common goal for growth.

“From the outset, I have always encouraged people to take ownership, ownership of their projects, ownership of their clients, and to take real ownership of their part in the company,” explained Harrison.

Adding why those particular international markets were of interest, he continued: “Both the Middle East and the US offer a wealth of opportunities for our business. The market in the Middle East is expanding, and has a growing appetite for British design and services, which enjoy a great worldwide reputation. In addition, the Middle East can provide a gateway into the Far East – a market we wish to strengthen our presence in.

“The US is an attractive location because of the sheer size of the market and an intuitive perception there was potential for our particular way of working. Being based in the US has allowed us to expand our business into new sectors, including premium hotels and entertainment, and to work with some very big, often international, brands.”

Despite the difference in market potential, the needs of hospitality brands, regardless of location, don’t tend to differ that much. The end game is the same – they all want to create and build profitable and respected hospitality brands, Harrison said.

“It’s the customs, culture and consumer needs that vary – being mindful of this in the process of creating new brands in a given market or re-engineering an existing brand so to be relevant outside its home market,” he revealed.

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“In our 30-year history, we’ve survived five economic downturns – including the 2008 financial crisis”

Despite 30 years under his belt, there’s certainly no shortage of vision for the hospitality brands that he and the business serves.

“Inspiration, the seed, is derived from many sources, not just the confines of design innovation and trends, nor the hospitality industry. We look at emerging social trends, local culture, worldwide influences, and other retailing,” he said.

With culture in mind, Harrison said the culture within the business is based around different outlooks, resulting in a diverse culture.

“One aspect of our culture that is extremely important is encouraging our employees to grow with the business. Our staff have helped to grow Harrison and we believe it’s important to reward this loyalty, by sharing in the company’s success,” detailed Harrison.

“In our 30-year history, we’ve survived five economic downturns – including the 2008 financial crisis. While the vote to the leave the EU presents new challenges for the hospitality sector, which are already starting to bite, we’re focused on expanding our offering and looking to new sectors, within the UK and in overseas markets to remain relevant and evolve with a changing world.”

Regardless, the current climate hasn’t deterred him from an ambitious growth target to grow by 25 per cent to a £7m turnover in the next five years, continuing to bring in established and new hospitality brands on its books.

“We’ll grow Harrison by capitalising on emerging sectors of growth in the hospitality sector, by expanding our offering and increasing our international presence in key markets, including Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Australia and the US,” Harrison said.

“We’ll drive forward the hospitality sector through our unique end-to-end solutions, which now includes branding, menu development, product sourcing, recruitment, and employee training.

“This allows us to deliver end-to-end solutions for clients who are both dedicated hospitality businesses and, more importantly, to those companies where hospitality is a secondary activity. These expansion plans will open up new opportunities for us and grow the business globally.”

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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