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Premier Performance

Mark Jones Managing Director of Grosvenor Casinos chats to Peter White

L-R_Mark Jones Managing Director Grosvenor Casinos, Cherry Tatlow Rank Cares Manager, Sarah Walsh Senior Fundraising Manager Carers Trust

How did you find the transition from Mecca to Grosvenor Casinos and how would you describe your first 18 months in the role?

I’ve been fortunate in the fact that I’ve now been with Rank for coming up to seven years. Before moving across to Grosvenor Casinos I’d been sitting on the executive side of the business with my then colleague, Phil Urban, who was running the Grosvenor brand. So, I’ve always been close to Grosvenor and its strategy and have been able to admire the great work that’s been going on. I already knew the senior management team so I was very lucky from that point of view and as a result, it was a very smooth and straightforward transition for me into the Grosvenor business.

Grosvenor Casino Luton is one of your best performing Casinos in the UK, is that why you chose that casino to reopen in October with the newest Casino games and state of the art displaysand equipment?

It was an unusual situation where we bid and won a new licence on the site of an existing casino. With the refurbishment costing over £4 million, it was our largest ever single investment into a site that wasn’t a new build. We increased the square footage by around a third, installed 80 slot machines and added new poker rooms into the casino, so it has been a very big investment for Grosvenor Casinos. It’s still early days but it has always been a town that has performed well for us over the years and we are very encouraged by the results so far.

Have there been many changes in the table game mix as well as EGM’s in other Grosvenor Casinos?

We continue to develop our table games and our table gaming team have done some first class work coming up with new side bets such as Ace King Suited, our blackjack side bet, which has been hugely popular with customers since its launch. We continue to really drive product innovation across our offering whether it be slots, poker or the classic casino games and I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made.

How is the performance of the regional Casinos compared to those in London?

We’ve just published our half year results and as always have split the numbers by London and by the provinces. We were delighted that the provinces saw an increase in revenue and profit and believe this is off the back of big investments we’ve been putting into the provincial business. London is still our power house, but we are delighted with the growth of our regional casinos.

What, in your opinion are some of the key attributes and characteristics that differentiate Grosvenor Casinos from other brands in the UK?

I think it’s a fiercely competitive and innovative market and we’re very respectful of our competitors. We have worked hard over the years to get a competitive advantage and believe there are a few things in particular that make us stand out. Firstly, we have built trust. We’ve been around for over 45 years and building a brand where oneof its key attributes is trust is very important in the casino market.

The second area I believe we have an advantage in is our people. We’ve been very focused on developing our team from within, so many have grown with the brand and share vast experience and know our customers, products and games very well.

Lastly and most recently, we took a decision to spend a lot more developing our core estate. We spent a number of years opening new sites however, now we can go back and invest in growing and improving existing sites, making sure that we have great facilities for our customers. That has helped us in many of our locations where we now have leading positions as a result.

With the parent company Rank Group’s financial results for 2014/2015 showing a strong growth of profits of 16 percent, how is 2015/2016 shaping up for Grosvenor Casinos?

Our half year results are now out and Rank has had a solid half year, as has Grosvenor. The figures show Grosvenor revenue is up 7% and profit is up 7%, across both retail and digital, and we believe this is a solid performance in this market place.

What has been Grosvenor Casinos approach by the head office to the Operations in the UK, Centralisation often characterised as the one size fits all or local with each operation incorporating their own individuality that’s often founded on the clubs locality and the community it serves?

We take a combination of both a branded and pragmatic approach here. So, for example, our G formats are the newer casinos. We don’t brand them this way; this is just an internal format. Common operating platforms in these G casinos include bigger bars, bigger restaurants, as well as bigger gaming areas and they tend to be targeted differently as they enjoy more leisure customers, as opposed to straightforward casino visitors.

Some towns where we don’t have a G format are much more reliant on income from slot machines and don’t have full facilities so might not have big restaurant and bar areas so we have to be realistic in these towns. Over time we are trying to build bigger and better assets with broader facilities and certainly when we refurbish casinos we seek to add bigger bars, restaurants and poker areas. We can’t necessarily deliver that in every area but that is something we are looking to develop as a business.

What initiatives do you think can be put in place from a UK perspective to engage with millennials?

This is something we’ve been thinking about. Wehave had discussions with machine manufacturers about how games will develop to fit the needs of this audience, for example, they may want more skill-based games in their slot machines.

We also need to drive our online offering. Our online presence is pretty small but growing at the moment and we are currently just under 3% crossover with our retail and online customer database. We want to drive this as we think this is where millennials are heading, wanting to play a casino game of their choice at a time of their choosing and you need to have a strong online presence to do that.

In an announcement in January that GrosvenorPoker.com was to become part of the Microgaming Poker Network (MPN), how is that relationship performing?

Well the partnership has only just started so it’s still early days but we already have a really strong presence in retail poker. In particular, we have the biggest poker club in the UK on the Edgware Road near to our Victoria Casino. Poker is at the heart of what we do but our online poker presence isn’t where we want it to be quite yet and we have found a new partner to help us develop this so watch this space.

Value for money is an important factor in customer retention whether it’s buying a drink or having something to eat. How do Grosvenor Casinos prices compare for food and beverage with alternatives?

I think we have a competitive food and beverage offering. Our food and beverage income is separate to our gambling income and we do see it as an area we can grow. At the half year results, we had 7% growth in our food and drink income which we think is above the market, as well as above the restaurant and bar market, so we are very pleased with that.

We have put additional resource in this area, with a particular focus on strengthening our menu and drink range. This has included adding more premium offers, as we previously felt it was too mainstream. We have also added an informal dining menu which includes several sharing options which are perfect for group nights out or experiences. We have also put a lot of effort into creating experience packages for customers and have done some good work with boxing and recently the Superbowl. We created a dine, drink and play offer so we continue to see food and beverage as a key income stream to grow as we broaden and diversify the casinos.

What initiatives does Grosvenor take to ensure that the high standards are maintained for both quality and variety of food provided to patrons of Grosvenor Casinos?

We have a defined structure within the clubs around F&B managers, and quality of food is at the core of our training. In addition to that, we have a central food and beverage team working on a regional basis that spends a lot of time ensuring we deliver the highest quality food. We also follow things such as TripAdvisor comments very closely to ensure we are constantly improving. It’s one of the areas of the business we really keep on top of which is why we are gaining a reputation for consistently high quality food and drink.

How is the fund raising going for the Carers Trust Charity, and can you provide details on some of the various fund raising events in place over the course of the year?

We’re delighted with the progress we have made with Carers Trust. We’ve just celebrated reaching a £1 million milestone as a result of the Rank Group’s fundraising efforts over the last two years. We have seen a number of different activities take place across the business, from an employee who dyed their hair pink to an executive at Mecca who is running a marathon. Everything you can think of, we have done, including a manager having spent 6 hours in a bath of beans!

What has delighted me more than the way our team has got behind the cause is the way our customers have got behind it as well. They understand what we are trying to achieve with Rank Cares and it is one of those charities that the closer you get to it, the more you realise how remarkable the work is that they do so it has been a great relationship.

Are there plans for Rank Group to expand into mainland Europe?

As you know we have got two casinos in Belgium. We also have a very successful business in Spain and Rank is always on the lookout for other European opportunities.

What are amongst the main accomplishments of the organisation in 2015 and are among the organisations principal goals for 2016?

For 2015 the standout for us was winning, building and opening the Luton casino which was a huge positive for us. In 2016 the big focus is the launch of our new online platform and driving our multi-channel strategy. The business has put a huge investment into that area and the new online platform will help drive our digital business going forward.