Eighteen months ago, restaurant owner Andy Laurillard was in a tricky situation. He and his wife Pranee had set up Giggling Squid, a Thai restaurant, in Brighton 12 years earlier and worked hard to expand it to 10 sites employing 250 people. But, day-to-day, the couple were living on credit cards.
“Things were going very well for the business but we decided that we wanted to take a bit of money off the table because our personal finances were not great,” says Laurillard. “We’d done everything we could to fund the business. Everything was mortgaged to the hilt. We were living hand-to-mouth because we weren’t taking drawings from the business and were living on personal debt and credit cards.”
The food entrepreneurs also felt they needed some help running the business – but couldn’t afford to pay for the necessary expertise. “We got to a point where we were growing quite fast and we started to hit traffic with our then bank for further lending. They were being cautious and had at that time red-flagged the sector so we started to find it very difficult to secure funds for a fast rate of expansion – even though the business was doing very well. But Barclays came through with an exciting proposal for us, and we’ve been able to grow on the back of the finance secured.”
Help first came in 2014 in the form of refinancing from Barclays Corporate Banking, allowing Giggling Squid to grow through its strategy of opening new branches in market towns in the South East commuter belt. Adam Mehmet, a Relationship Director for the Hospitality and Leisure sector with Barclays Corporate Banking, has become Laurillard’s main contact.
“In 2014, Giggling Squid was looking to grow their business and had effectively said that their current bank didn’t understand their business or sector as they sought to expand,” he says. “The business had eight sites and a further three at various stages of development. They came to us for funding for three of those, which we were able to provide – so we helped them to get the sites open and continue to grow. The following year Andy and Pranee took the decision to bring in private equity, and that’s a process that we worked through with them.”
The Laurillards were able to build on this with investment last year from the Business Growth Fund, which is backed by the major British banks. Giggling Squid now has 20 sites and has plans to expand to 150. The business was named in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, which ranks Britain’s private companies with the fastest growing sales.
We got to a point where we were growing quite fast and we started to hit traffic with our then bank for further lending. They were being cautious and had at that time red-flagged the sector so we started to find it very difficult to secure funds for a fast rate of expansion – even though the business was doing very well. But Barclays came through with an exciting proposal for us, and we’ve been able to grow on the back of the finance secured.
Giggling Squid owner
Laurillard, who went into the restaurant business aged 30 after a career in brand management at Coca-Cola and Unilever, says Barclays’ support is wider than just finance. “We spent time with the team showing them around our places in Norfolk, and it was good to kick round ideas – on growth-rate issues, quality control and so on,” he says. “It’s nice to have a friendly ear to talk to about these things. They have a lot of experience we can tap into and are good people to work with. We have a clear model of what their expectations are.”
With a 2016 estimate putting the turnover of the UK restaurant sector at £21.6 billion, and – according to a survey by Pragma Research – 11% of British diners having eaten a Thai restaurant meal in the last year, Giggling Squid is looking for a share of a significant but expandable market.
Dismissing the London market as “frothy” and “overstretched”, Laurillard says: “Our strategy is to consolidate the independent Thai restaurant trade in the UK. A branded offer for better quality Thai food in market towns. Our job is to make Thai food accessible to the UK market.”
Although Laurillard says it varies between locations, the couple concentrate on making the restaurants work through the whole day, having developed a lunchtime ‘Thai tapas’ menu. “Brighton and Salisbury have a massive lunch trade,” he says. “And Billericay. I don’t know what percentage of the turnover in our Billericay site is the Barclays accounts team, but it’s a pretty sizable one because they seem to be there all the time!”
As with any growing, independently owned chain, there are questions for the future about franchising or public offerings. “We’re only a year into the relationship with the Business Growth Fund, and these things tend to last three to five years,” he says. “Our focus is very much on keeping the quality up as we grow. Options will arise if we keep our customers happy and the business grows, and then we’ll see where we’re at.”
Having grown the business from the backstreets of Brighton, Laurillard is optimistic. “We’re providing really nice food for lots of people to eat. That’s the bottom line of how the economy works: we’re providing a good service that people want to pay for.” Mehmet agrees: “Nobody is doing the Thai market in the way Giggling Squid are.”