Stonegate is Britain’s largest pub company, with 1,200 managed pubs and bars across the UK, 3,200 tenanted sites, and multiple brands including Slug & Lettuce, Yates, Be At One, Walkabout, and Popworld.
The hospitality business was difficult enough before COVID-19 arrived, but the pandemic forced Stonegate to fundamentally rethink its core business and operational models.
“The past year has been unbelievable,” said Baz Javanshiri, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis for Stonegate Pub Company. “Most of our pubs have been closed eight of the last twelve months. That means we’ve had to reinvent our decision-making process. What do you do when the rules are changing every day? What do you do when you suddenly have no history to compare against? We had to get proactive, become more agile, and figure out how we were going to make money today.”
“Instant insights we could trust”
The pandemic wasn’t the initial catalyst that sparked Stonegate to modernize its data integration and analytics capabilities — but COVID-19 made this transformation an urgent priority.
Stonegate had already embarked on a project to build an analytics center of excellence (CoE). Previously, management of transactional data had been outsourced, creating complexity and constraints on tools and reporting. The goal was to move data management in-house, integrate data from multiple sources, and get better, faster insights for optimizing operations.
“We needed instant insights we could trust,” said Javanshiri. “That’s the way to get business leaders on board, because they have to have confidence in your insights. And that meant we needed real-time, customizable reporting.”
“We had to get proactive, become more agile, and figure out how we were going to make money today.”
Stonegate engaged with Talend to provide ETL (extract, transform, load) technology for data integration, and Talend recommended its partner Mphasis Datayltyx to support the implementation. The project had three key phases: migrate data in-house; implement more flexible, automated reporting capabilities; and train and upskill Stonegate’s Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) team to be more self-sufficient.
Initially, things were going well. Talend and Datalytyx worked with a number of other trusted partners to bring the data back in-house, and Datalytyx created a prototype for generating daily sales reports in just 18 business days.
Then the pandemic hit. Most of the company’s employees were placed on furlough starting in March 2020, and all the priorities shifted.
“The data integration and analytics project continued because it was important, but the rules changed,” said Javanshiri. “Our insights needed to become more proactive, less prescriptive. We needed to stop looking a year ahead and start looking a day or a week ahead. But first, we needed to get everyone on the same page.”
Creating a data superhighway
Javanshiri understood that with so many partners, so many moving pieces, and so many changes, alignment among all parties was essential.
“I wanted to see common goals, a seamless way of working, and clarity about roles and how to support each other,” he said. “That is what our partnership with Talend really provided. They gave us the ability to collaboratively build a superhighway of data that converges our main data sources, with the flexibility to dabble and play around with new data sources quickly and with ease. They helped integrate not just our data but our partners and our people.”
The new focus was to complete a “control tower” project to transition to the new solution ahead of pubs reopening in July. The control tower would make it easier to manage and re-prioritize tasks and ultimately ensure the new breed of automated sales reports were created quicky and reliably.
“We needed to get moving,“ said Javanshiri. “It didn’t have to be perfect; we just had to get started and build the control tower incrementally. What I wanted from the team was a very basic sample of what we wanted to achieve, within two weeks, then we’d go from there. That timeframe came as a shock to the team. But once we started building, we were learning continuously and it got easier.”
Going granular — fast
The control tower project was completed in just three months, enabling Stonegate analysts to successfully query the first weekend’s trading data using the new system.
“We had to go to a granular level fast,” said Javanshiri. “What’s the profitability of our pubs by hour? What market trends are playing to our strengths right now? Which markets and locations might provide new opportunities?” With the new platform, Stonegate data scientists now have access to three years’ daily sales transactions, stock and inventory data and labor force data comprising more than 3.5 billion rows of data, growing by 500,000 rows per day.
According to Javanshiri, the new solution has made Stonegate both more flexible and more proactive: “We can be more flexible in how we use our data to generate new insights, to address market trends, and support better decision making. We can be more proactive in how we support the business, looking at operations in a wider context to identify new opportunities. And we can do it all in-house.”
Always a step ahead
“I’m very pleased we took on this project,” Javanshiri said, “because otherwise we’d have had a much more difficult 12 months. If we’d had to use the traditional way of extracting data, it would have been very slow and we’d have lost our agility through that first phase of lockdown.”
More importantly, Javanshiri added, the new solution helped Stonegate stay a step ahead of competitors in a very challenging period.
“If I’m speaking to investors and they look at our competitors’ performance during that period, we were by far the most effective company when it came to operating through the pandemic,” he said.
“We are now able to make decisions very quickly, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without the data integration work we did. We would have had a lot less cash, we would have been less reactive to the government lockdown, and we’d have been worrying about keeping pace. The biggest win for us was being able to stay a step ahead of the competition, because there was market share to be won.”
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