Interviews

Outlook 2022: “2022 Brings Opportunity for In-Store Dine-In Growth”

Julianne Holt-Kailihiwa, the CEO of Sumo International, says maintaining quality and customer experience levels, were her company’s key achievements in 2021

How was 2021 for the industry and your company?
2021 has been very promising, while we are still contending with some of the challenges 2020 put the industry through, we have learned so much on how to make and implement change quickly, communicate and prioritise better.

What sort of opportunities did 2021 bring along?
If 2020 was about survival, 2021 was certainly about learning to rebuild teams and being completely amazed at the hidden talents that were already in our team.

Did you face any challenges in 2021?
Supply chain interruptions, increased costs, and travel restrictions have still challenged operations as many of our team members have still not been able to return home for holiday due to travel restrictions and logistical concerns.

What were your key achievements in 2021?
Maintaining quality and customer experience levels; with that being said many consumers have been a bit more forgiving when it comes to delivery timings and minor blunders, I think that period of forgiveness is probably over with for F&B and every operator has to be prepared for customers expecting nothing less than 100%.

What promises does 2022 bring along?
2022 brings opportunity for in-store dine-in growth as well as a renewed sense of stability knowing that we can execute on limited resources.

According to you, how do you see the future of hospitality and its demand in 2022?
The demand will continue as well as customer expectations. As check averages increase and people have returned to dine-in.

What will be your key focus areas for 2022?
A key focus will remain on our core strengths of being a Japanese dining experience that is friendly and approachable, value positioned, and unique in the fact that it was founded in the UAE over 21+ years ago. I cannot tell you enough how proud that makes the team knowing that we are part of the fabric of the lives of so many people for so many years.

What milestones have you set for 2022?
Forming new franchise partnerships for Europe as well as bringing more depth and authenticity to our dining experience.

What would you like to do differently in 2022, when compared with 2021?
Fail faster, we are continually trying to innovate and with that, we need to work on letting go of ideas faster if they are not resonating with the teams or the customers.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2022?
Yes, we are already in negotiation for some exciting new countries for Sumo as well as some top secret things the chefs got cooking up that will have us stepping a little out of our comfort zone in new dining categories.

I have travelled from the 3rd quarter of 2020 till now and I am still amazed at how well the UAE has managed the pandemic, not only from a perspective of keeping business moving but more so on the care and diligence taken in ensuring the health and safety of all.

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