How to get your products stocked in the Virgin Hotel Chicago

Winning a contract with a big business as a startup can be gamechanging. So while we were staying at the fabulous Virgin Hotel Chicago on a recent trademission to the U.S, with the winners of the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur Festival 2015, we decided to find out how a startup goes about getting stocked there.

We managed to grab Executive Chef Rik Gresh and Director of Food and Beverage Lin Pham to ask them exactly how an entrepreneur would go about winning a contract with the Hotel.

Rik Gresh: Executive Chef at Virgin Hotel Chicago, responsible for everything you eat in the building.

Lin Pham: Director of Food and Beverage, overlooks banquets, in room dining, mini bar

Why is it important Virgin Hotels work with startups?

RG: Here at Virgin Hotels we love using independent brands, it’s important for startups to have that story behind it. Especially in this day and age where people want to know where there food comes from, how it was made, how it was grown. So any story we can say that helps us to sell and share that product makes it 10x easier for us to do our job.

LP: We look for independent brands that have a really strong story. Those stories not only help to inform the guest about what they’re looking for in a unique experience, but also helps to set us apart from our competitors.

What is the best way for startups to get their product in front of the procurement team at Virgin Hotels

RG: If a startup wants to get in touch it’s about finding out who’s responsible for what they’re selling. So if it’s in food and beverage it would come to myself or Lin and you can get in touch via Twitter or email. What I’ m looking for when someone comes to pitch to me is I want to see the product, I want to taste the product, I want to know where I can buy it and if I fall in love with it right now, how can I get it tomorrow? It’s ok if you’re not ready to have that distribution in line but let me know the timeframe or ask me, ‘hey, who can we use to get this to you’ and we’ll work through that.

LP: I would say it’s important to also know the pricing structure, what relationship do you have with competitive brands and what pricing do you bring to them? Obviously profitability is very important to us and while we want to make sure that we’re developing these relationships we look at it as a partnership and if our partnership is important to that particular supplier or individual what pricing opportunities do we have?

What size does a business need to be before it approaches Virgin Hotels?

RG: So I don’t think a startup needs to be a certain size or to have been in business for a certain length of time. It’s more about the relationship that we develop and can you deliver the amount that we need. There’s a love to overpromise out there, but that just makes me go nuts. So be realistic, let us know what you can handle. If you’re having a bad week and you’re not going to be able to get me a product then tell me, so I can make other arrangements because that just makes me go nuts as there’s noting worse than being caught with your pants down and not having a product. That’s why those relationships in the early stages are so important.

What values does a startup need to stand for to be considered by Virgin Hotels?

RG: For us in the kitchen when we first started out was we wanted as much ethically sourced products as possible and to make sure there’s no slave labour or anything like that going on. Outside of that it’s great if they’re bucking the system a little bit, it’s great if your core value is to jazz things up and do better than what everyone else is out there doing.

LP: We want to make sure that the organisations that we work with support what we stand for. On the beverage side I’m honestly really interested in things that are on the cutting edge or might not have even hit the market yet because I think part of telling that story would be a product having the opportunity to have its birth and grow its legs and be successful within the Virgin brand.

What factors should be taken into account when determining the price a startup pitches to you at?

LP: Transparency. If you are holding a card behind your back when you come to the table that you can come down to, typically in those conversations we will get down to that base price that we’re trying to agree upon. So that goes back to the core values of the companies that we want to work with. It’s about being transparent about what you can deliver and what price you can deliver that at and holding your word to that price.

Does Virgin Hotels looks for British products to stock.

LP: I think it’s important to seek out British products as a nod to our British heritage. While each market might differ based on what the surroundings and the communities might look for, here in Chicago we definitely look for unique opportunities to reinforce that.

What would be your top advice for someone trying to the their product used or stocked by Virgin Hotels Chicago?

LP: I really feel like there’s no right answer on how to get your product into a hotel. But once you get that attention it comes down to how passionate you are about telling that story.

RG: I think the couple things a startup should keep in mind is be persistent. You don’t have to call me twice a day but we’re all busy you know. And we might miss an email or a phone call so be persistent with it and like Lin said passion is key. If you don’t believe in that product, I’m not going to believe in that product. So come n excited that you have this great product to give to us and let’s make a deal.

Want to learn how to do business with big business?