Inventive Leisure - taking its best shot

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Inventive Leisure has opened its first London vodka bar. Mark Stretton reports.Last Tuesday the Capital heralded the long-awaited arrival of vodka...

Inventive Leisure has opened its first London vodka bar. Mark Stretton reports.

Last Tuesday the Capital heralded the long-awaited arrival of vodka bar chain Revolution and its array of weird and wonderful flavoured vodkas.

The new £1m Soho bar, formerly a Mexican restaurant, is the 25th Revolution and it signals Inventive Leisure's first foray into London.

"Every bar opening is incredibly important but this one is especially so," said co-founder and chief executive Roy Ellis. "All our major investors live and work in the City so this is right on their doorstep. It's a chance for them to touch and feel what Revolution is about."

Worldwide, vodka sales account for a quarter of all spirit sales and in the past four years British sales of vodka have grown 40 per cent.

Roy and his co-founder Neil Macleod have ridden the wave of that growing popularity. What Revolution is about is offering a vodka experience like no other.

The chain has an offering of over 90 different vodkas, 50 premium imported vodkas and 40 of Revolution's own flavoured blends, with every taste accounted for.

Everything about Revolution points to frivolity - last month it took 40 staff to Ibiza. Fun is the company song the two founders happily hum along to. But beneath the wacky cocktails lies a successful concept built upon the foundations of opportunity and sound business administration.

It is also important to note that these bars are not merely drinking dens designed for serious liver abuse.

Testament to this is the attention to detail, the refined, contemporary bar décor, the tapas menu and the soulful beats that emanate from the sound system. "We were very close to the mark early-on," said Roy. "We were very fortunate in that we found a great, versatile product and we came up with a brand that fits the concept perfectly."

But the Revolution concept didn't come along until 1996, five years after the company's inception. Roy and Neil met in a bar in the late 1980s. Roy, now 39, was a consultant in the leisure industry and Neil, now 38, was an account manager at a promotions agency. Both had a desire to leave the London rat race. The original plan was to open a handful of bars in and around the Manchester area and sell them on at a profit a few years later.

The pair opened their first bar, Moonshines, in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1991. They had spent two months renovating the premises and Moonshine was to became their home for the next two years.

Inventive is still based in Ashton and retains some of the early unbranded bars such as the Witchwood for which it won Customer Service Pub of the Year at The Publican Awards 2000.

It won its first Publican Award as Multiple Operator of the Year in 1995 when it had grown to eight sites. The following year it unveiled its first Revolution bar in Oxford Street, Manchester. "I knew we had something straight away," said Neil. "I told my friends and family to invest in us, as this company would eventually float. Some of them duly did, so were quite happy to see us go to market last year."

But hardly any of them cashed in at the float. The duo's friends and family still own 25 per cent of the company.

By the end of 1996 Inventive had five Revolutions in the Greater Manchester area and others soon followed in Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol. The company won its second Publican Multiple Operator award in 1999, on the back of the vodka bars' success.

The brand's name stirs images of vodka-fuelled revolutionary Russia but it could apply to its part in the segmentation and diversification of the bar market. An array of focused bar-chains have opened to cater for people's preference, be it vodka, tequila or less versatile spirits, and this theme is exaggerated in London where there is a plethora of spirit-based bars.

Revolution makes 30 per cent of its sales from vodka-based drinks but also offers a wide range of premium beers such as the Czech Budweiser Budvar, Hoegarden wheat beer, Poland's EB Pils and Belgium's Leffe at 6.6 per cent ABV.

While each bar requires a significant investment, the results are lucrative with the Manchester outlet taking more than £30,000 a week. The Derby Revolution topped £50,000 over Christmas.

The founders of Inventive Leisure have spent the past 18 months embracing life as a public company.

The company listed on AIM last year in less than perfect market conditions. But the float was a resounding success, raising £7m and valuing the company at a shade over £20m. Since then the share price climbed to 190p before coming back to a current 150p, taking the company's value to £30m. "We are still 50 per cent up on the initial price which is great," says Roy. "There are many good companies who are a long way under water since they floated so I think its something we should be proud of."

Answering to other people, namely shareholders, has been a new experience for the Inventive duo, one which has brought a more disciplined business approach.

"It's been great - a really good learning experience," said Roy. "When you say you're going to do something you have to do it. You can't put back board meetings and you have to undertake constant reviews, which is very healthy for the business."

They will not have to worry about pleasing investors if they stick to their current track record. Last week the group announced profits of £2.2m on sales up 55 per cent at £18.7m.

While certain structures have been put in place at Inventive, public status has also given it more freedom. The money raised allowed it to forge ahead with the roll out of the Revolution concept.

Ten bars were added last year and venues in Doncaster, Lincoln and most recently Birmingham and Soho have followed in 2001.

Roy and Neil still own 35 per cent of the business between them. With a market value of £30m, the pair's stake is worth more than £10m. Are they not tempted to cash in their chips? "There are days when you do wonder what it's all about but fortunately those are very few and far between," said Roy.

"It's great fun and we both still love it."

The company is currently at various stages of discussion over a further 17 sites. Students are a big part of the customer base and the pair pay particular attention to university towns.

Roy and Neil say there is room in the British market for up to 60 more Revolutions. That their revolution has only just hit London is proof that focused bars are not exclusive to the Capital. "We're not worried about the competition - you have to believe in your product," said Roy. "And besides, if we can make it work in Huddersfield, we can make it work anywhere."

Inventive Leisure


21 Old Street,


0161 330 3876

The Ellis-MacLeod Revolution


The duo open their first bar, Moonshines, in Ashton-under-Lyne


Voted best Multiple Retailer in The Publican Awards having grown the group to eight unbranded outlets


The first Revolution is opened in Oxford Street, Manchester
Four more Revolution bars follow the same year


Wins Multiple Operator of the Year in The Publican Awards for the second time on the strength of the Revolution brand


Inventive lists on AIM with a value of £20m


The group hits the Capital with its first London Revolution i

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