Zonal eyes global growth after record year

Stuart McLean is chief executive of family-owned Zonal, which counts JD Wetherspoon among its customers. Picture: Getty
Stuart McLean is chief executive of family-owned Zonal, which counts JD Wetherspoon among its customers. Picture: Getty
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ZONAL Retail Data Systems, the maker and supplier of electronic tills and software for the hospitality industry, has set its sights on overseas expansion after record annual sales.

The Edinburgh-based company, which counts pub giants Mitchells & Butlers and JD Wetherspoon among its customers, is also planning to boost its headcount on the back of its growing workload.

Stuart McLean, chief executive of the family-owned firm, said its biggest client in the United States, where it has had a sales office for more than 15 years, is the International House of Pancakes diner chain, with 151 sites in Florida alone.

“The US is a big target, but it’s a crowded market with 50 or 60 different competitors,” McLean told Scotland on Sunday at the opening of Zonal’s new £1 million headquarters at Tanfield, Edinburgh.

While growth within the 
US is the firm’s “major focus”, he said expansion into other English-speaking areas such as Australia, New Zealand or South Africa could also be on the cards.

Zonal, founded 35 years 
ago, employs about 340 people, of whom 200 are based in Edinburgh, and McLean said: “There’s another 20 or 30 coming in this year because we have more stuff to do and more customers to look after.”

Turnover jumped 27 per cent to a record £52.2m last year, on the back of rolling out more machines following contract wins from the likes of Mitchells & Butlers, owner of the All Bar One, Harvester and O’Neill’s chains.

In November the company won a deal to roll out its electronic point-of-sale systems to all Mitchells & Butlers’ 1,600 pubs and eateries, and McLean said 1,100 have been installed so far.

Zonal has also benefited from the growth of Wetherspoon, which has 927 pubs and last week unveiled a 10 per cent rise in annual revenues to £1.4 billion. McLean said: “The industry has shifted away from the old local where people used to go and have a cigarette and bottle of Guinness, and the big ‘super­pubs’ are growing. Wetherspoon are great customers and we’ve been with them a long time – they had about 20 pubs when we started with them.”

Zonal provides software that keeps track of stock and lets waiting staff put orders through to the kitchen, and has developed an app for customers to order and pay for their food using a smartphone.

McLean predicted that smartphones will change the way people pay for hospitality, and this was one of the key reasons behind last year’s acquisition of Midlands-based digital marketing firm TXD. “We wanted to make sure we understood the whole customer journey, such as reserving tables and giving feedback online,” he said. “Consumers want to do more things with apps, so we had to be in that space.”

McLean revealed that Zonal is also on the receiving end of frequent approaches. “I get private equity interest a couple of times a month and the big people in our industry have expressed an interest,” he said. “But I think being a family business is a good thing and helps to make us different.”