Learning a new language

Mecca Bingo’s Andy Crump has been adding a third language to his linguistic skills over the past eighteen months, that of bingo-lingo. No, the managing director of bingo’s most recognised brand has not been familiarising himself with classic bingo calls, but more so with the sector’s multitude of abbreviations and acronyms.

Andy joined the Rank Group in May 2022 having previously worked in the retail and hospitality sectors, most recently for high street stalwart Marks & Spencer as Head of Hospitality Operations, prior to which he was with Punch Taverns and McDonalds.

Whilst Bingo may not technically be part of the retail and hospitality sector, its continuing evolution and Andy’s vision for Mecca, certainly places it alongside. Hospitality is very much a key ingredient in delighting both current and new customers, and Andy’s experience in this arena has already provided new perspectives on Mecca’s venues and business, as the club bingo proposition shapes up for an exciting future.

Born in Vigo, Northwest Spain, some thirty minutes north of the border with Portugal, which may explain his love of the sunshine, Andy is not of Spanish descent. His Dad, a geologist, was working for an international mining company during the 1970s exploring for gold and tin deposits in the region, his mum perhaps uncoincidentally went on to become a modern foreign languages teacher. Those roots have stayed close to Andy’s heart, having gone on to study his native tongue later in life, and developing a reasonable mastery of Spanish, since his family returned to the UK.

The move back to England saw Andy and his parents settle in Shrewsbury, which was where he attended school and college. A further cross border move took place post turning 18, when he studied Marine Zoology at Bangor University, in North Wales. Andy got all his key home relocations in before turning 22, as upon finishing his degree he moved back across the border to Stoke-on-Trent, which was to become his permanent family home, despite pulls from career moves.

Having worked for McDonalds whilst studying at university, Andy applied to be part of their graduate training scheme. “Like so many I stumbled into a career in hospitality, via the golden arches of McDonalds,” Andy commented. “The graduate training scheme saw me with my first McDonalds store at the age of 22 and lots of brilliant commercial experience with a fabulous brand followed.”

After ten years with McDonalds, as Andy reached his late 20s he was ready for a change and moved into the world of pubs at Punch Taverns. In January 2004 he became a Business Development Manager for the then biggest pub company in the UK. A progressive thirteen year career at Punch, spanned a wide range of leadership roles, both regionally, centrally and nationally, encompassing Operations, Property, Compliance
and Strategy.

It was while at Punch that Andy met his wife, Jo, who now works for Mitchells & Butlers as Operations Director for Ember Inns, operating over 150 sites across the UK. Jo and Andy have a two year old daughter, Isla, and Andy’s son Josh, 20, is studying to be a chiropractor and daughter Ellie, 18, is studying HR.

When Andy ‘called time’ on the pub sector, with hospitality very much part of his DNA, he was hungry for a new challenge and joined Marks & Spencer. His role as Head of Hospitality Operations saw him responsible for over 400 sites that operated their Cafe, Deli Counter, Marketplace and Fresh Pizza concepts and also enabled him to work on key franchise and concession partnerships for the business.

“Marks & Spencer is an amazing organisation to work for and it was exciting to be part of their hospitality journey, which is still very much transforming, but before long I was ready to explore a sector where hospitality is evolving to be centre stage. I realised Bingo was calling and that become very evident after I had my first proper club bingo experience. I had previously only ever played on holiday and that did not, and does not, hold a candle to the club experience.”

On the subject of Jo and him both working in hospitality, Andy concedes that does mean there is a lot of ‘shop talk’, not just at home but sadly when on holiday too! “When you’ve got an eye for brilliant hospitality and it’s in both your bloodstreams, you just can’t help but notice things and have the inevitable conversations about what went well, what didn’t, what we would do differently and what could be improved. At times that can be really exciting, especially when we see businesses and people deliver something new, it can be brilliant!

“This does all make travel a challenge as we never seem to fully leave that hospitality lens behind, but when we do take a break it is always somewhere sunny and top of the list is Dubai – great weather, great food and great service. There is just no appeal in a ski trip for us at all, not even to the indoor ski slope in Dubai!”

Eighteen months into the role Andy is certainly making sure that Mecca’s star rises.

“Mecca truly is a fabulous business to lead, a brand steeped in the heritage of Bingo, with really engaged teams, who are hugely passionate and invested in our future success.

“And that passion is never more evident than in our venues’ teams, led by our General Manager population. A critical role in our success, they know their customers and their marketplace better than anyone, and we are really starting to reap the rewards from getting a better balance between central support and local autonomy over the last 12 months especially.

“Bingo is a genuinely wonderful industry to work in that has greeted a newbie like me with great warmth and support. I’m equally as proud and often humbled to witness the role that Bingo clubs play at the heart of their communities, providing valuable warmth, company and support for so many people.”

Andy and family remain based in Stoke, which does mean quite a commute to Mecca’s Maidenhead HQ, but it also puts him within easy reach of a large number of bingo clubs, both Mecca’s own and those of competitors.

The planned pace of change at Mecca is not slowing down as Andy and team set their sights on 2024, armed with and informed by what has been learnt from the radical new club design at Luton.

“There’s much to celebrate at Luton and there’s no doubting it’s a real move on for our business. A bright, vibrant, contemporary feel, with enhanced, immersive audio-visual opportunities, it has not only clearly resonated with our existing Luton customers but also very much with a new demographic, helping us to understand better what customers want from a bingo venue and experience moving forward.

“It’s not all about huge leaps forward of course, and whilst Luton is a great statement of our transformation intent, other clubs have benefitted and continue to benefit from both internal and external enhancements also. This year will see a total of fourteen venues receive game-changing external refurbishments and signage, as well as a similar number of slots arcades being completely transformed. All helping to improve our kerbside appeal, turn the dial on the customer experience and create venues that our colleagues and customers can be proud of.

“Bingo really is enjoying a resurgence and is very much on trend. In a typical week over half of our new retail customers are under 35, and we’re seeing a more diverse crowd, with 35% of younger players identifying as male. With lots of new customers signing up for their first bingo experience every week it’s incumbent on us to ensure we meet, but better still, exceed their expectations, as well as ensure we continue to look after our incredibly important current members. We’re focussed on investing in and delivering clubs that players are proud of and building an industry fit for the future.

“Despite this positivity, there’s no doubting the industry faces increasingly challenging times, as straight off the wrecking ball that was Covid comes the review of the Gambling Act. A challenge, not least in terms of the volume of work involved, but also in ensuring that the industry is accurately represented, heard and understood.”

The wider bingo sector has started to see more of Andy, not just as MD of Mecca Bingo, but also as a leader for the industry, having accepted the role of Chairman of The Bingo Association.

“I’m delighted to be able to play a key role in The Bingo Association, especially at such a pivotal time for the industry. Early signs look like the Gambling Act Review might give us the platform for some much-needed modernisation of our proposition and the chance to evolve the bingo experience to become ever more engaging and immersive for all customers, both current and future.”

Eyes down for 2024, it’s certainly going to be a busy year for Andy, at both Mecca and in his wider industry role. His signature home cooked dish, paella, may need to be substituted for a Marks & Spencer ready-meal, but we hope he finds time for his other passions somewhere in the sun – eating great food, playing golf and watching Aston Villa!