Digitally Transforming a Market Leading Business…After Dark

Toby Smith, CEO of Novus Leisure, talks to psd about the “Customer Dashboard”, the ambitions he has for the business, London’s night-time economy and Sadiq Khan’s Night Tsar..

Novus Leisure is the market leader in the London late night scene, with 42 unique bars, restaurants and late night experiences in London’s most desirable postcodes. Can you give us an insight into how you ensure you stay ahead of the competition, your ambitions for Novus Leisure and any plans that you may have to expand internationally?

We have three main business levers: we invest in developing our people, our bars, clubs and restaurants and listening to our customers. The three levers are equally important for us to be successful. We are a London-centric business with over 90% of our estate in Zone One. This is set to continue and we would like to add further to our London presence where we believe our operating knowledge and economy of scale give us a competitive advantage. We have so much we want to do with our current estate. The London market offers significant growth opportunities and so we are very focussed on our home town.

You are reviving brands such as Balls Brothers to enable more scale for the business. Can you tell us more about this revival and in other parts business? 

Balls Brothers has been a city institution for over 150 years and we are very fortunate to have the brand within our portfolio. Due to redevelopment of office accommodation in the city we had lost a number of sites back to landlords and needed to decide to either develop and grow the brand or remove it. Our team in Balls Brothers are very passionate about their brand so in the end it was an easy decision to invest behind both the brand and them as a team. We created Balls Brothers Emporium in the summer of 2015 which is an evolution of the offer but still retains its charm and heritage, the new offer is very much a drinks emporium and whilst we still have a 74 bin wine list we also now offer a wide range of spirits, long drinks and imperial cocktails.

This change to the business has been a resounding success and we have recently converted further sites to the brand. We would love to add more sites to our portfolio in the future.

You continue to invest in “the Customer Dashboard”, a tool you have developed since you began your tenure with Novus. Digital Marketing is a business need for all companies, but this platform offers more.

Yes, the platform gives our customers ‘a voice’ within our business in real time. We amalgamate content from social mediums: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, 5 start review websites like Trip Advisor, Google + & Facebook Reviews and our own survey that follows bookings and visits from our customers. This content is displayed as a word cloud to easily identify hot topics. We’ve also assigned a sentiment tag so we know whether the topics are good, bad or neutral.

By having access to this data we can monitor what our customers are saying in real-time and either resolve any issues immediately or highlight trends within the business that require a longer-term strategy.

The data also allows us to build associated algorithms to assign a score to our four KPIs: Social, NPS, Survey & 5 star reviews. These KPIs make up the greater Customer Experience Score, which we have used to create league tables to incentivise focus on the customer experience within our GM population. The best way to drive sales is through returning and engaged customers, the Customer Dashboard helps with this challenge.

Where did the idea come from?

I have invested heavily in experience monitoring tools in the past particularly in mystery guest programmes which I often found frustrating. “Professional mystery guests” signing up for the role to get free food and drink is never going to be a perfect feedback sample! This was even more distinct in the Novus business where our customers are habitually on mobile platforms and not form-filling. I was convinced that there must be a way of collating their sentiment, views and opinions that they are sharing on social media – there is and the Customer Dashboard was born.

I don’t think even I envisaged what we have today which has changed our business forever. The level of detail we now receive for each business is staggering; our ability to distil and prioritise is where the Customer Dashboard really comes into its own.

Has “the Customer Dashboard” helped the business in any way that you didn’t envisage when you launched it?

The response time with a customer who contacts us digitally has reduced from hours and days to minutes. We hoped it would deliver this step change but the scale of the impact has been beyond our expectations. We also wanted to use this as a tool for our General Managers but are delighted that the level of engagement spans the whole team.

How do you measure its success?

Our venues’ Customer Experience score is now jeopardy on the performance bonus schemes throughout the organisation. We measure this along with the traditional measures of sales, profit and team performance. The Customer Dashboard tracks four KPIs – traditional survey reviews from people who have booked with us, an NPS score, a collation of all 5 star reviews and a KPI we call “Social” which measures customer engagement with our social output.

The night-time businesses in London contribute £25bn+ to the Economy. Do you believe that Sadiq Khan’s Night Tsar will help deliver a vision for London as a 24 hour city?

I think it is a really important step for the city and a very positive recognition of our industry’s contribution to the wider economy.

As London’s largest late-night operator we look forward to working closely with the Mayor’s office and the new Night Tsar in the future. Partnership and collaboration are absolutely key. One of the main drivers for the total London economy is having a vibrant and successful hospitality market.

Nurturing and supporting the growth of this secures the city’s reputation as one of the most exciting in the world, creating jobs and prosperity.

We are all aware of the prevailing headwinds for the sector. How you are dealing with or preparing for these whilst still protecting the customer experience?

The industry has prevailed against a perfect storm of headwinds over the last decade starting with the smoking ban and I’m sure that it will weather the latest round of economic impacts. London has the ability to change and adapt – we have an amazing city moving toward an amazing “24 hour city” and as a business Novus is excellently placed to take advantage.


Toby Smith

CEO, Novus Leisure

Headquartered in London, Novus operates an un-rivalled late night property portfolio with some of the industry’s most iconic sites including the recent winner of “UK’s Best Late Night Venue” Forge in the City of London and Tiger Tiger on Haymarket.  Novus is the industry leader in pre-booked sales driven by its sales team and the renowned Late Night London website which delivers almost 50% of its total revenue.

The business is now on a mission to excel in both pre-booked sales and delivery of exceptional customer experiences supported by its new and unique customer dashboard.Before joining Novus in October 2014 Toby held senior roles in a career spanning over 20 years in the hospitality industry.