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Blog : Why retailers want to learn from hospitality


Why retailers want to learn from hospitality

By Jane Sunley, Chief Executive

When I started learnpurple a little over ten years ago, with a background in hotel management,  contract catering and hospitality recruitment, it was a natural progression to want to transform some of the people challenges within that industry. At the time I thought “if you can fix hospitality, you can fix any industry” and to some degree that is correct. However, as we’ve expanded; from working purely with hotels, restaurants, contract caterers and so on to working within retail, professional services, media and beyond, I’ve realised that the hospitality industry actually makes a pretty good job of ‘the people stuff’ and, in many ways, is something of a trailblazer; opening doors to varied career opportunities.

Take, for example, Angie Risley. Currently HR Director at Lloyd’s Banking Group and, in April 2011, was appointed non-executive director of Serco. She carved her career within the hospitality industry, with Whitbread, where she was an executive director until 2007.

Or Sir Gerry Robinson. Back in the 1980s, from his role as managing director of Grand Metropolitan’s international services division, he led a £163m management buyout of the loss-making contract services and catering division which was later renamed Compass – now one of the top ten largest corporate employers in the world. Robinson later went on to join Granada TV as chief executive, in the process ousting Granada’s chairman and leading John Cleese to call him an “upstart caterer”.

And it’s also interesting to note that the only female FTSE 100 executive board appointment over the past year was within hospitality (Tracy Robbins, InterContinental Hotels Group, August 2011).

One of the great things about hospitality is that it’s relatively easy to enter; a popular option for part-time work, school leavers with the right personalities can usually find good entry level roles and graduates can join the industry having studied non-related disciplines. And once in, those with talent are identified and quickly developed, providing the drive in order to advance their careers.

It is also seen an attractive option for entrepreneurs too (think Polpo, Malmaison Hotels, Hakkasan…)

However those who lack experience in what is, after all, a very complex business, should not be fooled into thinking it is simple. Hospitality engenders a composite set of skills and attributes such as vision and determination, positivity and stamina, organisation and planning, interpersonal and presentation, marketing and merchandising, finance and commerciality, the list goes on…

So why the link to retail? As with hospitality, those who work in retail are multi-skilled and need similar behaviours in order to deliver and succeed. They have also experienced the same shift in consumer behaviour; with a move from ‘good customer service’ into the more complex and harder to achieve ‘memorable customer experience’. They battle similar challenges in order to achieve maximum profits from the available space and are embracing technology to help them measure, monitor and plan. And, for many, they recognise that none of this matters if they don’t have the right people and culture across their organisations.

This is why retailers are looking closer at hospitality businesses; wanting to learn and apply the same methods in their own organisations. They want to know how to attract, develop, engage and retain their talent. Why vision, values and employer brand are mission critical. And how they can offer the levels of service customers now expect thanks to their hospitality counterparts excelling in this area.

So we’re seeing the great and good of our hospitality industry taking roles outside of the sector, offering their expertise and insight to help improve other types of business. It’s also why leading figures are being invited to speak at large retailing conferences. For example, at this year’s ‘Big Retail Show’ in New York, restaurateur and best-selling author, Danny Meyer, was invited to share his knowledge. Here he said “Even if you’re the absolute best at doing what your business is supposed to do, your customers will only give you 49 points out of a 100. You can earn the other 51 points with only one thing – good hospitality.”

He then went on to say: “For those who are looking for the most powerful differentiator in terms of creating an experience…you have to stock your store not just with the best stuff, but the people who live for making other people happy. You can’t teach hospitality. It means they’re someone who’s at their happiest when they’re making someone else feel good.” The room soaked it all up.

As experts in their fields, it’s time for hospitality to shine; showing other industries that it is a leading industry. One which creates many entrepreneurial, inspirational and talented people. So whilst at learnpurple we’ve grown other parts of our business, meaning that hospitality now represents only half of our income, and even though we enjoy working within other sectors and the success that brings; we’ll continue to be proud to work with the industry and support its voice…

What are your experiences? Is there enough cross-fertilisation of ideas between sectors? 

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