Entrepreneur Interview: with Sally Marshall, Marshall Robertson Group
Posted on the 27 October 2020
Tell me about your background in business?
I don’t have what you might term a ‘‘traditional’ background in business, having taught music at a secondary school for many years; a career that I thoroughly enjoyed.
However, I was drawn into the hospitality industry some eight years ago when my then teenage son Toby Marshall-Robertson, who had trained as a chef, decided to launch his own street food business, The Asian Project.
This was centred on a bright orange gazebo which measured three metres by three metres and everything we learnt about running a business happened within this modest space.
We attended street food events across the North East from Northumberland to Teesside, starting off with pad thai and thai green curry and our crowd-pleasing Dragon noodles.
The Asian Project was a real learning curve. Toby was 17 at the time and I was able to support him on the legal side of the business and through networking, identifying, and connecting with those who could help move the business forward.
He may have been a teenager, but from an early age Toby possessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit – something that runs through the family – and we both have a natural ability to identify potential and develop opportunities that will drive the business forward.
I always wanted to become a teacher and it was a rewarding and enjoyable profession but wasn’t always the easiest way to earn a living. However, I believe the experience has made me more resilient and taught me how to cope with pressure.
There are many transferable skills that are useful in the world of business, notably a teacher’s ability to be an influencer and to get the best out of people.
How was Marshall Robertson Group formed?
From The Asian Project – which was based in the kitchen of my home - we built slowly, first taking over the kitchen of a reputable restaurant on Teesside, which gave us a foothold into the hospitality industry. This arrangement was perfect as, at the time, we had no experience of running front-of-house and the bar.
Once we got a handle on how to run a successful busines, it was a matter of looking for the next opportunity, something that was both exciting and allowed us to develop our creativity.
In your own words, what is it that Marshall Robertson Group does?
We are more than food and drink; our ethos is based upon creating great memories and making our customers smile.
What is your proudest moment with the company?
Every business faces difficult moments and whenever we have been confronted by a challenge, we have not only been able to produce a solution, but one that has improved the business and made it more resilient. I am proud of the fact that we can still identify opportunity even when things don’t always go to plan.
A recent example occurred when we reduced the number of diners able to be seated at The Ship at Redmarshall, near Stockton, to maintain social distancing and create a covid-safe environment. This freed up extra capacity in the kitchen that enabled us to launch a takeaway service for restaurant-quality food, which has proved extremely popular.
Is there a particular mistake you have made while in business? And how did you overcome/learn from it?
When things are going well you naturally believe you are doing a great job, but what you don’t realise is there is always a certain amount of luck involved.
My mistake was just to trundle on without having proper systems and procedures in place, such as staff evaluation procedures, or failing to keep the systems that did exist under regular review. Such systems are the building blocks of the business and are a priority.
What is the USP of Marshall Robertson Group?
Our USP is our creativity - creating stories behind our menus together with a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and it is this that differentiates us from the large chains. We have carved a niche for ourselves based on Teesside’s traditional dish, the parmo. At our Prickly Pear Bistro in Middlesbrough, we have developed a global take on the beloved parmo, with 35 different versions available on the menu.
How has the firm grown and what do you attribute this to?
Having started out with Toby, who was in partnership with another young entrepreneur, and our bright orange gazebo, we have grown to employ a staff of 53 people.
We have expanded the business in bite-sized chunks that allowed us to learn along the way.
We took over The Ship at Redmarshall in May 2017, which was a bold step as we had little to no experience in running a bar. Fortunately, we received great support and guidance from the brewery, Greene King.
Our next full restaurant site, which opened last year, was a blank canvas which allowed us to indulge our creativity – the Prickly Pear Bistro, located in the TAD Centre.
It features elements of the menu at The Ship but provides an outlet for Toby’s love of Asian dishes, together with the huge array of parmo options.
An important part of our success rests with our staff and we are fortunate that, due to our excellent reputation and robust recruitment policies, we are able to attract a very high-calibre of staff – which has definitely helped us grow our customer base.
Another key in developing the business proved to be enrolling in the Entrepreneurs’ Forum Scale-up Academy. It was here that international coach Ian Kinnery provided me with the knowledge and tools necessary to establish those all-important systems and procedures that underpin any successful business.
Do you live by/do business by a certain motto?
As a business we live by two mottos – ‘Kindness Over Everything’ and ‘One Team, One Family’. We like to celebrate our achievements together and I always try to speak to every member of staff on a regular basis to ask how they are and if they are happy in their work.
What are the future plans of Marshall Robertson Group?
We are about to take on a third venture on Yarm High Street, a restaurant-bistro which will create a further 15 to 20 jobs, which we are hugely excited about.