Neil Moffitt CEO of Hakkasan Group

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Developing a Luxury Hospitality Brand…

By Neil Moffitt. CEO of Hakkasan Group

Taking on a brand like Hakkasan with a remit to expand was an exciting but complex challenge; a 12-year old brand that redefined an industry and had an unspoken philosophy among its people. Turning this into a sound and profitable business strategy meant understanding it and protecting it before starting to develop it.

The first step on this journey was looking at and defining luxury in terms of hospitality. What permissions and proof points qualified us and was it sustainable as we grew into new markets and sectors? Was luxury an appropriate term and is it where we wanted to position Hakkasan for the future?

One of Millward Brown’s recommendations in their Top Brands 2015 report was that luxury brands need to have a consistent story, which does not feel bland at scale. They highlight the importance of a strong luxury concept, which has emotional resonance at the individual level, rather than pure exhibition of wealth. I like this idea; that we create thousands of personal experiences every day.

An exhibition at the V&A last year ‘What is luxury?’ also tackled this subject and contemplated both the history and future of the luxury landscape even creating an online tool, The Definery, to help classify your ‘luxury’ items against a set of defined criteria – decorative vs. practical, handmade vs. mass produced, limited edition vs. one of many. It concluded with the thought ‘Truth is Luxury’ which whilst being inadequate as a single idea plays back into a bigger concept of authenticity for luxury brands and for Hakkasan.

In 2014 we worked with C_Space to find our authenticity, to Unearth, Define and Deliver our brand and articulate it in a way that would ensure consistency and understanding both internally and externally.

When building out the Hakkasan brand, we landed upon a core principal that I truly believe runs through our business and creates our culture – ‘Always crafting a better experience’. Experience is our business and we choose people who are passionate about all parts of creating that experience. Whilst FMCG brands clamber to create meaningful experiences as a way of connecting with their audience, experiences are our entire business

Joe Pine’s ‘The experience economy’, demonstrates that ‘experience’ and ‘creating memories’ is now not only a valuable commodity but an economic trend. Apparently the next stage is the Transformation Economy, which I am keeping a close eye on as we develop hotel concepts, but more about that later.

The word ‘craft’ was also carefully chosen and craftmanship is cited again and again as a core idea in luxury and we craft every detail of our experiences. The wine lists are crafted in an entirely unique way, separated not by price or geography but by mind-state. The team test wines democratically every Tuesday and anyone in the company can join. Christine Parkinson is one of the best wine buyers not only in the country, but probably the world.

Our Marketing and Creative teams work together on strategy and implementation – a unique set up for a company like this where ‘design’ is often siloed or outsourced. Putting the creative and comms process at the heart of the business is the behaviour of a luxury brand, not traditionally of a restaurant or hospitality company and helps set us apart from our competitors.

Our stand-alone London restaurant, HKK, was developed with the pure purpose of ensuring Hakkasan continued to innovate – another mark of not only a luxury brand but any successful brand in the 21st Century. HKK is referred to as the Atelier of Hakkasan – it is Chef Tong’s workshop or experimental kitchen where he can develop his ideas and keep pushing standards across all our Asian luxury brands. Many dishes developed here make it to the menus of Hakkasan or Yauatcha around the world.

We have a very clear strategy with Hakkasan, to ensure it retains global recognition and awareness and that is to only be in metropolitan cities. Any Hakkasan you visit will be reminiscent of the original in style, experience and quality. If we cannot do that, it will not happen. Maintaining the standards of the experience is paramount to our success and to our luxury status.

That rigid strategy may appear restrictive in terms of growth and development. It is. Only a certain number of cities can support a restaurant or nightclub of this scale so innovation and brand development are key to ensuring growth whilst not damaging our core brand. We didn’t want to go down the route of ‘Hakkasan Light’ or mini Hakkasans. What we developed, again with our partner agency, C_Space, was Ling Ling – a sister brand to Hakkasan that would factor in the need for growth, the millennial audience and future-proofing our success. Ling Ling was designed to be flexible and fun, bolder and more fluid, able to exist in smaller spaces or secondary cities or even as a pop up. Known internally as Hakkasan’s naughty little sister, it was inspired by the Izakaya concept where food accompanies drinks and not the other way around. It borrows from the Hakkasan DNA but reinterprets it for a new generation.

We opened our first Ling Ling restaurant in Mykonos last year and the brand will be rolled out over the next few years in locations where Hakkasan would never work – whilst we have even bigger plans for Hakkasan that feed off the success of restaurants and the nightclub in Las Vegas.

In 2013 we commissioned a 6-month research project with IDEO to look closely at luxury hospitality across the world, to explore the universal truths of luxury and find a defensible position for Hakkasan to play in in the competitive hotel space.

Without revealing too much about our core proposition, the human-centred research led us to a interesting place around duality, which in itself may not sound very ground breaking – the idea of Ying Yang is centuries old but the idea of understanding and delivering on those 2 very basic human needs that permeate Chinese culture and Eastern philosophy was an inspiring jump off point for our ideation and design development. We worked tirelessly on how Hakkasan could own and deliver on this ancient idea to deliver something no one else is doing in hospitality.

Ultimately, in this fast paced, tech-enabled world, our guests are giving us their most valued possession, time, and choosing to spend it with us. Whether they visit us for two hours or two weeks, it is imperative that we deliver on our promise, every time.

Neil Moffitt

Neil Moffitt joined Hakkasan Group in 2013 as Chief Executive Officer, serving as the figurehead for the prestigious global hospitality company, creating new business and managing its global relationships at an executive level. He is currently in charge of the merger and acquisitions and oversees the management contracts for the entire company portfolio.

With more than 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Moffitt has run some of the most successful brands in the lifestyle and nightlife sectors in the US and Europe. Prior to joining Hakkasan Group, Moffitt had created many world-famous brands, including the brand concept Godskitchen, which was created in 1991. In 2005, Angel Management Group (AMG) was formed, and partnered up with Hakkasan Group in 2012, to launch the luxury-dining brand combined with a lavish new nightclub at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino known as Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, which opened to significant fanfare in April 2013, followed by the opening of Hakkasan Beverly Hills in September 2013. In January 2014, Hakkasan Group announced the acquisition of Enlightened Hospitality Group, a San Diego-based hospitality development company, followed by the acquisition of his former company Angel Management Group, a Las Vegas-based entertainment and nightlife company in February 2014, and then the acquisition of The h.wood Group, Los Angeles’ leading nightlife and event production company in May 2014.

Furthering his commitment to expand the hospitality arm of Hakkasan Group, in April 2014 Moffitt announced a partnership with MGM Resorts International to form a joint venture hotel company, MGM Hakkasan Hospitality, of which he is CEO.