Regent Inns' Andy Walder looks to the future

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Public house, Jongleurs

As part of Regent Inns new management team, Andy Walder is looking to the future.Andy Walder was born in a pub, earned his first wages behind a bar...

As part of Regent Inns new management team, Andy Walder is looking to the future.

Andy Walder was born in a pub, earned his first wages behind a bar and worked in the licensed trade for 12 years before venturing out into the uncharted territory of betting shops.

But after less than a year with Ladbrokes, his wife Karen noticed it was not suiting him.

"Having been out of the industry for nine months, she said I wasn't the same person," he explained. "She said, 'You're not happy unless you're in the pub business'."

Six months later, he is back, as marketing director of Regent Inns. At 41, he has worked within three of the biggest giants in the pub industry but now has an estate of 121 pubs and bars.

"I thought it was time to work in a different type of organisation that was smaller with the right culture," he said.

He is part of the new management team that has arrived in the wake of last year's appointment of Scottish & Newcastle's Stephen Haupt as managing director, and now chief executive. They are preparing for a new phase in Regent's development which will see further roll-out of its brands - Walkabout Inns, Bar-Risa and Jongleurs comedy clubs - and the development of new formats.

Walder is in charge of a team working on purchasing, retail branding, developing food and amusement machines and other marketing functions.

It is a different world to the leased pub that his parents ran for 27 years. They made the Bush Blackbird & Thrush in East Peckham, Kent, a popular traditional pub without using customer focus groups or market segmentation.

As soon as Walder was old enough, he began working behind the bar during the university holidays, learning how to run a cellar and manage a busy kitchen.

"I can still remember how long the days were and how hard we had to work," he said. "The experience gave me a lot of credibility. Licensees know you're talking the right language."

With a geography degree from Reading University, he joined HP Foods, part of the Imperial Group, looking after brands such as HP Baked Beans and HP Sauce.

He left in 1987 to look after trade promotions for Grand Metropolitan's regional pub company, Hampton Hosts, based in Northampton, and then into an operational role for its wet-led business Clifton Inns, looking after pubs in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London.

After two years, he wanted to get back into marketing and in 1990 became marketing and buying director for Thresher, helping to transform its portfolio of diverse off licences into segmented brands. During this time, he also worked on improving the company's culture, trying to involve employees in strategy and development.

Moving to Whitbread's Beefeater, he helped to update the brand through consumer research and food development.

"Beefeater had built up a strong place for itself, but the competition, such as Toby and Millers Kitchen, was catching up and overtaking us," Walder said. "I felt Beefeater was losing its way. I thought it should have more focus as a pub, but there were different views about where it should be focused."

As Beefeater evolved into more of a restaurant, Walder left in 1996 to become marketing director of Allied Domecq Inns. He is proud of his role in helping to change the culture within the business through new initiatives such as staff focus groups.

"We started to listen to the people who worked in the pubs," he said. "They were very proud about their pubs. It was something powerful to access."

He was involved in developing brands such as the Festival Alehouses, Bar Sauza, Evolution nightclubs, Mr Q's and Firkin.

"With Firkin, we felt it had lost its way and become too laddish and lost its roots," he said. "We took it apart and rebuilt it. We felt happy with where it had got to, but I would have liked to have it for a little bit longer."

What brought their work to a halt was the takeover of Allied Domecq Retailing by Punch in summer 1999. Walder stayed for a few months to help with integration but left in November 1999.

As marketing and development director of Ladbrokes, he hoped to develop online betting, but e-commerce was split into a new division, leaving Walder with only the traditional betting shops.

He also found the company culture quite a shock after Allied. "Ladbrokes had a more traditional way of doing things, not so people-oriented. Not my style."

Now at Regent, he is working on boosting food sales and developing the retail brands. In May, it resumes roll-out of the Jongleurs comedy club chain, aiming to grow from eight to 20 and improve the Bar-Risa pubs that share their sites.

Walder is also helping the Walkabout team to give a further boost to the bars, some of which already make over £100,000 a week, such as though building daytime trade.

"When we were at Allied Domecq, we looked at Walkabout, but we didn't understand it because we thought it was just an Australasian theme brand," he said. "It's about sport, entertainment and a party atmosphere."

Regent is also working on a new "townhouse" brand - "a town centre pub with good food at lunchtime in a relaxed café-bar style atmosphere, which becomes more lively by 9pm".

Walder is looking forward to being part of a team that can finally divorce Regent from the troubled times over the past three years.

"Regent needs a new culture, a more structured approach than what is needed when you are building up a company," Walder said. "The team is there now. We are very clear what the task is."

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