Jon Horsfield, Managing Director of Centegra has been with the company for 15 years this month.
In the past 5 years alone, the changes in the industry have been significant but here Jon talks about beyond that, how the market has seen new types of hospitality businesses enter, the emerging technologies and how changing consumer habits have created a sector which is leading the way in digital transformation.
1. What made you join Centegra all those years ago?
Before joining Centegra I’d worked within Operations and Sales for a number of POS companies in the UK, as well as the first web-based inventory management solution when the internet was a pretty new thing (we used to sell broadband packages as part of the solution as dial up internet was still the main way of accessing the internet at that point). I met Tom Bell (Centegra’s CEO) at an exhibition when I was looking for a POS to resell for the Hotel Software company I was starting up and spent some time looking at the Quest POS, which was exactly what I was looking for – simple to use and more importantly the hardware was simple to support as it was firmware, rather than windows based.
That business didn’t quite pan out as expected, but I really saw the potential in the Quest POS solution and as importantly, working with Tom. The obvious thing to do was tap him up for a job as I knew he was growing. I was originally employed for a 6-week contract to look after the support side of things - there were only 4 of us at that point, so we all had to do a bit of everything. Fifteen years later it’s been the longest 6 weeks of my life!
2. What role did technology have in a hospitality business then?
Operations were starting to become more reliant on tech in simple ways, sending tickets to the kitchen automatically, collating bill information etc. It was more about stopping manual errors and looking at early forms of consolidated reporting. When we launched the first web-based POS for hospitality, the ability to get figures overnight from all stores from any PC connected (via dial up modem!) was revolutionary. Since then, it’s changed significantly - tech has become absolutely critical to running any hospitality operation.
3. How has the company changed during that time?
The number of people working for Centegra is the obvious one. In the beginning there were 3 full time employees. We have grown consistently since then and in 2021 alone we have increased our numbers by 20%. We are now always in the process of recruiting more.
As far as our products are concerned, we are no longer a “POS” company, but a company that supplies POS as one element of a much bigger platform. We have focussed on the ways that clients have had to adapt to their customer’s requirements. There are a multitude of ways that an order can be placed and we are proud of the flexibility and adaptability of the Centegra Plus platform. Our recently re-launched website positions our solutions as the Digital Restaurant, The Digital Kitchen and The Digital Enterprise as it’s no longer about installing a till on a counter.
4. With everything that has happened in recent years, what would you say is the biggest catalyst for change in the hospitality industry? What are the main challenges?
Going back 10 + years, the biggest change was the ability to have cloud-based systems that use broadband. This was a massive shift to allow for real-time reporting/updating of systems. More recently though the pandemic has obviously been a massive catalyst for change and has forced many hospitality businesses to accelerate plans for external sales channels with the likes of Deliveroo / Just Eat / UberEats, Click & Collect / kiosk services.
We decided early on that we would focus on building a consolidation platform that would be central, integrating all of these disparate channels, and build partnerships so that our clients could decide on which was the best fit for their business, rather than having a solution forced upon them. The challenge for us has been to develop the multitude of integrations clients were asking for quickly enough, as in the early days of the pandemic we were being introduced to a new partner integration almost on a daily basis. Supporting all of this whilst retaining our award-winning customer service levels has been a challenge at times, but hopefully our customer retention is proof of our success in doing this.
5. Centegra Plus is the solution that the business focuses on. How do you see the solution evolving and changing to continually meet the needs of clients?
Centegra Plus started as a reporting consolidation platform to link reporting for one of our legacy POS systems with a latest generation POS product (At one point we were reporting live sales feeds from 3 different systems that we had supplied). Inventory Management was the next step as we had several clients asking for a better way of doing this than was on offer from other parties, (likewise Cash Management followed soon after). All the modules within Centegra Plus, whether it be reporting, sales channel consolidation, Kitchen Management, or some soon to be released features such as Product Forecasting & Scheduling on to the KMS / Menu Management for external sources, have been led by our clients and developed in conjunction with them.
We obviously have ideas on how we see the product developing and it’s important to have a clear vision of where we want to take the product, but that’s no good if you aren’t talking to customers on what is important now and will be, in the future, for them. We have recently promoted our Centegra Plus Product Manager to “Head of Product” as this is now a distinct role that requires dedicated focus.
6. Some of Centegra’s clients have been with you since the beginning and shows the close partnerships you’ve built which form the foundations of the business. How does the business continue to manage these relationships as the business grows?
It’s a cliché, but it really is all about communication. We have always prided ourselves on our customer service and I believe that in being one of the first to market in the industry with a SaaS product (before this became commonly used term), we have built the business on having to continuously provide good service. It is a long time since we sold our last one-off “POS license”, with software maintenance charges and had to re-visit accounts annually. It also goes back to what I was saying about how Centegra Plus is developed – We are always looking at ways of adding functionality and features so that we can meet expectations. Features that are seen as “nice to have” now, will become expected features for every provider, very quickly.
7. Where do you see the business in the next 15 years?
Although we’ve had a client base in the USA for a few years, it’s been difficult to grow due to the Pandemic. We’ve definitely seen growth there in recent months and we expect to hit the 200-site mark around the end of the year, with a combination of Centegra Plus and Silver POS clients. We will be increasing the amount of time we spend there as soon as we can physically get to the USA, as it is a massive opportunity for us - the feedback we have received from clients that are using our solutions in the USA is amazing when compared to some of the solutions that are available to them. This isn’t to say that the UK isn’t also important though!
We continue to grow in the UK through adding new clients, existing clients expanding and the Centegra Plus product offering growing even more. Increasing the partnerships is something I am particularly focussed on as one of our key business strategies. We always want to be able to say “Yes” when we are asked about integrations / API’s as this is the way forward for tech in Hospitality - allowing the client to select best of breed, rather than being restricted to a closed eco-system.