Happiness guaranteed at Beverley

While aware that no-one has a monopoly on good ideas, the ten-strong team at Beverley, led by Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course Sally Iggulden, are doing their best to disprove the theory. Eight-time finalists, including three category wins, in four years of the RCA’s Showcase & Awards is proof of their success at innovating.

“Wherever we go – a weekend away or an evening out for instance – or if someone sees something they like online, we have a regular think tank to discuss it,” says Iggulden, who spent her BHA graduate programme placement at Ascot Racecourse. She then joined the RCA as Technical Services Assistant after a short spell at the news agency Racenews, before joining Beverley as Racecourse Manager in 2000.

She explains: “It started informally, but we have made the process more structured by having a catch-up on a weekly basis. We don’t like stealing ideas but we adapt them, particularly from outside the industry, to suit Beverley. And that involves the whole team of ten, including groundstaff, so everyone has an input, a bit like ‘show and tell’.”

Proving that good ideas come from all directions, a racebus project that became a Showcase Award category winner was picked up from a skiing holiday, while a customer service initiative offering a ‘100 per cent happy guarantee’ resulted from a train delay.

“The Racebus idea came from Kate McKee, who saw a bus going to little villages picking up people and taking them to the resorts,” Iggulden says. “We joined up with a local company and the bus wended its way from holiday parks in Bridlington, picking up at village pubs along the way. It got us noticed by people in far-flung places who might otherwise not have bothered coming racing, with the aim of getting them to become regular racegoers.

“The ‘100 per cent Happy Guarantee’ was my baby, and came from waiting at King’s Cross station. I went into Hotel Chocolat, the up-market chocolate shop, where it’s too expensive for me to buy anything but they always have samples to try. I spotted a small notice tucked away which said ‘100 per cent satisfaction guaranteed’ and wondered how we could use the idea.

We decided that satisfied wasn’t good enough; we wanted people to go away from racing happy. So we put together a ‘100 per cent happy guarantee’, and gave the racecourse team empowerment up to a certain level to make people, as far as was possible, 100 per cent happy.

“For example, if someone arrived at the gate and couldn’t find their tickets, I wanted them to walk away happy with how they were treated, so we gave staff the ability to replace tickets in these genuine circumstances, instead of them having to call someone from the office and keep customers waiting 20 minutes until things were sorted out.

“All the staff signed up to the idea and we have kept to that approach. It’s not something we advertise, but it’s very much an internal team tool, which we can use in training staff to deal with customer service.”

Another Showcase Award Finalist, A Very British Raceday, derived from the 2012 London Olympics. “We’d seen how patriotic everyone was,” Iggulden says, “so the following year, when we had a one-off fixture on Derby Day, we decided to create a new theme day and to celebrate everything British, including staging our own Derby, but it had to be a Donkey Derby.

“That fixture is now on Bank Holiday Saturday at the end of May and is a wonderful event, because people have really embraced it, dressing up in red, white and blue. The Donkey Derby itself goes from strength to strength, and the video of this year’s event will be the most-viewed of any put on Facebook by a racecourse; it’s up to more than 2.6 million views and been shared all around the world.”

Community spirit is a recurring theme in Beverley’s approach to innovations, and it has resulted in two other Showcase Finalist appearances. The War Horse Project marked the anniversary of the start of the First World War and involved the local school for adults with learning difficulties making a life-sized puppet made out of milk bottles, while the Easter Egg Tree began with a spoof social media campaign and ended with schoolchildren helping themselves to a thousand chocolate eggs.

However, the biggest driver for fresh ideas is Beverley’s Ladies’ Day fixture, which won the Events award at Showcase 2012 for the execution of Fashion Week.

Iggulden recalls: “Beverley is well known for its fashion boutiques and retailers, so to tie in with that year’s Ladies’ Day campaign, we had a Beverley fashion week, which involved the local community, schools and retailers. The finale was held on the racecourse, and it had a very nice feel to it. It’s now morphed into a section of Hull fashion week, which is much bigger, and the racecourse supports this quite heavily to promote us in a wider area.

“By 2013 we’d built up Ladies’ Day into a very popular event but had slightly lost track of what it should be. If anything we became too greedy and went up to our maximum capacity, but at the same time the event got a bad reputation in the area for behaviour in the town afterwards. Ladies Day would have died, and we’d have gone from hero to zero, if we hadn’t done something.

“So we cut our capacity, to make it more comfortable, and addressed the drinking issue, which wasn’t only down to us, because local businesses were jumping on the band wagon by providing champagne breakfasts.

“Because we had a responsibility to make sure that people could see the whole day through safely and go home happily in one piece, we partnered with Blue Keld, a high-end local mineral water company, who provided teams that handed out water to racegoers throughout the afternoon. It wasn’t heavy-handed but done in a pleasant, classy way, and it worked massively, a huge success, and we still do it.”

As long as Ladies’ Day remains Beverley’s biggest of the season, Iggulden and her team are anxious to balance commercial success with corporate and community responsibility, and this year’s Journal-sponsored fixture on 10 August, which quickly sold out premier enclosure badges, will continue a theme of comfort for racegoers.

She explains: “Last year we did a trial of Toilet Takeover – I really must come up with a better name! – after some local businesses complained that people arriving early, particularly women, were going in just to use the loos and then at the other end of the day the council closed all the public conveniences at 6pm.

“We’re doing more this year, with special soaps, towels, colour themes and Welcome to Beverley Ladies’ Day notices across the council’s six toilet blocks, and we’ll send in our cleaning team to make sure they’re kept pleasant through until 9pm.

“We’re also putting in temporary portaloos on the way from the town, and providing more signage for people to know the shortest route to get back there after racing.

“We believe that if the tone is right when people arrive at the racecourse, the rest of the day is easy. So we make a big thing about getting people here in a good mood, keeping that going, and sending them away happy.

“It’s about enhancing the customer experience and giving them every opportunity to behave appropriately. If you make the environment nicer, people respect it more and behave better.”