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Roger Marris, CEO The Ritz Club talks to Andrew Behan, Casino Life

Could we start with you giving us a brief history of The Ritz Club? Including maybe the following:

What Year did it open?

The Ritz Club originally opened in 1978. It re-opened under new management (The Ritz Hotel Casino Limited) in September 1998.

Who opened the club?

The Club was opened by the owners and Andrew Love (now Chairman of The Ritz Club).

Who was your first Customer?

Our first customer shall remain anonymous except to say, that he was a very significant player on the gaming scene at that time.

How many tables did you have then compared to now?

We have double the number of tables since 1998.

How has The Ritz Club changed over the years?

Operationally my approach is very hands on and I work very closely with the marketing and gaming operation teams. Everything we do at The Ritz Club is in keeping with our heritage and strategic vision and very much on brand. But it will remain important to continue to increase awareness of the brand using marketing initiatives to leverage new opportunities.

The Ritz Club represents where the power base is. Since the Club opened we have enjoyed a mix of European and Middle East players. More recently, with the growth in Asia and the Far East, these VIP players are now part of the new history of The Ritz Club.

How does one face the challenges of staying concurrent with new social media trends but still staying in keeping with the traditions & values made famous by The Ritz?

First and foremost, the traditions and values that The Ritz Club is renowned and respected for worldwide, will remain intact and must not change. Social media is of course an integral part of the marketing mix and is viewed as a positive communications tool to connect with our customers, market our products and promote the brand.

As we continue to develop the brand, our marketing department keeps the brand relevant via social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. As an outbound mechanism it is used to promote features of the Club or special events that we are hosting. As an inbound mechanism we are grateful that it allows our members to engage with us regards to questions they may have about The Ritz Club.

We are very conscious about how prevalent and important social media and Apps are in the Asian market. In 2016, we will re-launch our multi-channel offering with a unique integrated gaming proposition for our members across both normal and digital channels.

Do you plan any new promotions or new marketing ideas for 2016?

Yes, we are opening an office in Hong Kong to continue to serve the growth of new customers from Asia, in addition to our new multi-channel offering which is coming soon!

There seems to have been a noticeable shift in the type and origin of the traditional “high roller” you now find playing in VIP salons around the world. Would you say this has been the case with The Ritz clientele and if so how have you had to adapt to accommodate them?

I would agree that there has been a noticeable shift in the type and origin of the traditional “high roller” that you now find playing in the VIP salons around the world. The Chinese and Asian market is important for everyone in the London high-end luxury casino business. Over the past three years we have been monitoring the influx of big players from this part of the world and have adapted and reviewed our gaming offerings and identified opportunities to attract this new wave of VIP players. This now includes many high rollers from Asia who like to play the squeeze version Baccarat, which is a hugely popular game of choice for these players. The squeezing of the cards varies in its intensity from player to player. Some will just rub and bend gently, whilst others use an ultra slow technique that appears as if they’re trying to roll the card into a tube.

Operationally there has been a significant cultural and strategic change of direction for the business as we have evolved to accommodate games favoured by the Chinese and Far East player. This in turn has required employing new staff and finding additional space for tables. We have welcomed lots of new faces in the Gaming team to serve the growing number of players. We have placed a priority on employing fluent Mandarin speaking staff in gaming and non-gaming related positions and we have elected to turn the Amber Room into an additional private room. The Ritz Club has tripled the number of Baccarat tables.

Customer service plays a big part in the Chinese visitor experience and at The Ritz Club we want to make our customers feel very much at home and provide a warm welcome. As part of our ‘Huanying’ (Huanying means welcome in Chinese) practice, we have introduced professional cultural and protocol training sessions that have been given by a leading etiquette specialist to ensure that all staff are aware of the cultural differences and expectations of these guests. All signage in the Club has also be adapted to include Mandarin Chinese and we have created a new Chinese menu featuring a selection of traditional and authentic dishes favoured by Chinese guests.

That being said, The Ritz Club has always been a traditional destination for the Middle East player and although our focus has been to secure significant new business in the Asian market and deliver on our commitment to achieve returns and profitable growth for our owners, we will continue to take care of our existing business, which is extremely important and valuable to us. We have worked hard to maintain this important customer base and are looking at new ways in which to encourage and develop growth with the Middle East players who have been loyal supporters of the Club for many years. The Middle East VIP players are, and will remain very important for the high end London gaming clubs.

What in your opinion are amongst the most impressive facilities of the Casino?

The staff, the staff and the staff! As I’ve said many times before we are a people business and it is essential that our service and products are flawless and consistent and provide our members with unique experiences – this is what sets us apart from the competition. Our staff anticipates the needs of members, customers and the business and act upon them proactively showing high levels of initiative.

I have been constantly impressed by the friendliness of staff and the wonderful comments that I have received from our members and guests about the generosity of spirit, the great atmosphere and the warm welcome they receive when they come to The Ritz Club. It is their professionalism and outstanding service to our customers that has resulted in their continued loyalty.

We are also blessed in having one of the world’s most iconic hotels as part of our “family” and whose facilities members can enjoy.

How do you ensure that the highest levels of service at the gaming tables and the Casino floor are maintained?

We endeavour to employ the best staff in the country and provide excellent ongoing training programmes led by a very experienced and highly regarded management team. We encourage innovation in order to provide solutions that will help in achieving and delivering better and faster results with courtesy, respect and dedication while remaining focused on customers/members needs.

If you are allowed to say, who was your most surprising guest or guests during 2015?

We pride ourselves on our discretion and our members respect that we maintain their privacy.

That being said, it never ceases to amaze me the number of ‘A’ list celebrities that enjoy the Clubs’ facilities from time to time.

How have you managed to keep The Ritz Club, as one of the premier VIP Clubs in what must be a competitive environment in London?

It goes without saying that we have to remain competitive particularly in terms of marketing. However it is our reputation, heritage, high standards of service and operating procedures, which are consistently and constantly upheld and our highly skilled and experienced staff that sets us apart from the competition. We are a “family business” and have enjoyed incredible support and continued investment from our owners, which allows us to be ‘top of our game’.

What has been one of the highlights as CEO of The Ritz Club?

There have been many highlights in a job that never has two days the same. But I would say that the rollout and implementation of our Asian strategy as being the main highlight for the business. This has proven to be even more successful than previously anticipated and we are much further ahead the current five-year plan than we initially expected to be.

What have you learned from the clientele of the Club whilst being CEO?

My job allows me to meet very interesting and successful individuals and I have learnt that being a member of a high-end club allows these individuals to relax and take themselves away from the stress and pressures of their daily life. At the end of the day no matter how successful or how rich anyone is we all have our own particular challenges to face and deal with.

We are sure there are many stories from over the years but could you tell us one of the funniest or most memorable from your time at The Ritz as CEO?

One of my most memorable evenings was an event, which we held for our members in the Club celebrating 50 Years of James Bond. One of our strategic alliance partners was the luxury car brand Aston Martin and we had a line-up of classic Aston Martins positioned right outside The Ritz Club on Piccadilly including the famous DB5 – now that was a truly magical sight!

Other memorable occasions:

I must say that when the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton visits The Ritz Club he is extremely charming and very popular with the staff. He has the ability to completely engage with whomever he is introduced to. His legendary charisma stems from the undivided attention he gives to every person he meets. I have been told that on one occasion when he was dining in the restaurant, he went over to each and every one of the staff that had served him, looked into their eyes and personally thanked them for looking after him so well. He then asked them if they would like a photograph with him. He connects with ordinary people, looks them in the eye and listens to what they say. He’s genuinely interested in other people’s stories.

Britain’s most successful female artist ever, Dame Shirley Bassey, chose The Ritz Club to host her first album launch in over 20 years, it featured songs written specifically for her, by a stellar cast of contemporary artists, including, Take That’s Gary Barlow, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Manic Street Preachers, Pet Shop Boys, KT Tunstall and Rufus Wainwright, who all incidentally attended a glittering reception in the Club’s Amber Room.

A funny story and a little before my time, relates to HM The Queen Mother who always presented the Waterford Crystal Trophy to the winners of The Ritz Club Trophy Stakes at Ascot. One year she could not attend due to a bad cold, she asked her private equerry to ring to ask if it would be ok for her daughter to present instead!! (The Queen)

How were your travels overseas in 2015 and what Countries were amongst your favorites?

We have had several exciting trips to visit members overseas in 2015. I recently enjoyed visiting Indonesia for the first time. I’ve travelled and worked extensively in Asia and the Middle East but I was very impressed by growth and development in Indonesia as well as the individuals and leaders that I met in Jakarta. Malaysia and China of course remain outstanding destinations for anyone to visit.

How was the sponsored Golf tournament and did you play in the event? Does The Ritz Club host other such events?

Over the years The Ritz Club’s name has been known throughout the world for its sponsorship of sporting and charity events in the Far East – Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, Middle East and the UK. More recently the Club has once again started sponsoring golf tournaments in the Far East. It was a very successful tournament and continues to be a very popular and prestigious event with our members. It attracts a high number of VIP players including members of foreign Royal Families. In the UK we sponsor race days at Ascot and entertain members in our box during the week of Royal Ascot, another well-liked event on the social calendar for our members. In 2015 we also took players to the Rugby World Cup and the Champions League Finals.

Has the Casino been affected by the slow down in China or the drop in oil price?

It would be naive to say that the slow down in China’s stock market and the drop in oil price has not affected the global economy. However those in the high end VIP gaming business have not been affected as much as perhaps other types of businesses. We are extremely conscious of any potential changes/threats to global economies and these changes are recognised and addressed as part of our ongoing business strategy