Glenn Yates tells Ewan Turney how staff investment and a sound marketing strategy have made Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard in Woodbridge, Suffolk, a roaring success
How I got here
We took over the pub four years ago. I had been in the IT industry for 20 years, including a spell in customer relations, but I fancied a complete change and wanted to run my own business. When we met some licensees on holiday and got talking, we decided to investigate the possibilities. From the outset we had some fairly clear ideas of what we wanted - a pub in Suffolk where we could do food. Greene King was very good at finding us the right pub. My wife, Lyn, had some experience in catering, but I had none so we were put in touch with another Greene King pub and did some work in the kitchen. We also did some relief work, which helped make up our minds whether we wanted to go ahead. The pub was doing well when we came in, although a downward trend had started.
1. Core team - The people make the pub. You have to build a good core of staff unless you want to work 100 hours every week. Your staff represent you, your values and your standards. If you work hard and your staff let you down when you're away, it's pointless. We make sure they know what we expect and share our business strategy with them. In my experience, a lot of pubs don't treat their staff very well. We pay above the minimum wage and in line with local rates.
2. Incentives - We run incentives to motivate staff to upsell - for example, the winner could be a staff member who sells the most garlic bread or liqueurs. The prize for the competition at the moment is an iPod shuffle, which sounds impressive, but only costs £50. If you stretch the competition over a month or six weeks you will get that back with the extra you sell. We recently took staff on a Christmas outing for a tour of the Greene King brewery and a few drinks.
3. Training - We run a formal induction programme and encourage staff to come to us with training schemes they want to do. We currently have three doing Modern Apprenticeships for food and drink. We pay for their training and also pay them half a day's wages. HR can be a nightmare so we provide staff with a customised handbook put together by a company called Peninsula Business Services. We pay them £70 a month, but it covers us in terms of all the proper procedures and if we had a problem they would defend us. It protects us and provides clarity for our staff.
My marketing strategy
1. Daily Telegraph - We participate in the Telegraph's two-for-one pub meal offer. It works very well for us as you get free national advertising. I do monitor where people come from and we definitely get a wider footfall. People who are a little further away will make the effort to come out. It is free, but of course you have to subsidise the meal.
2. Website - We use a local guy who provided our website at a very reasonable price. He handles all our regular updates on menus
and music nights to let people know what is going on.
3. Flyers - This is another thing that is good value. We design our own A5 flyers on our computer, have 200 copies made and our local newsagent charges a small fee to deliver them with the local papers. It is very cost-effective.
4. Sponsorship - Our customers are more into rugby than football, so we have recently become a sponsor of Woodbridge Rugby
Club. We have a board up at the ground. There is also a subtlety in that form of marketing
as there is a strong link to the community - people appreciate that.
5. Local business link - We invited all the local bed-and-breakfast owners round for a free meal to showcase our pub. Hopefully that
will encourage them to recommend us to tourists.
My food operation
We inherited our chef, Peter Crane, when he was on the verge of quitting because he had not had any holiday in two years and was grossly underpaid. We quickly sorted that out. During the week we do traditional pub food such as steaks, pies and baguettes. On a Saturday night we also have the Bistro at the Bell, which takes place in the function room and offers more fine dining. The menu changes fortnightly. We limit that to 22 covers, so it gives the chef the chance to really show what he can do. That has been really popular.
How I increased drink sales
1. Beer - We are part of Greene King's Top 100 Club, which recognises pubs serving top-quality beer in excellent condition. We are also Cask Marque accredited and they carry out a mystery visit every six months. We have been in Camra's (Campaign for Real Ale) Good Beer Guide for two years in a row. Those awards are the icing on the cake - good beer should be served in pubs anyway. Using the logos for marketing can help to differentiate your business from the competition.
2. Wine - We have managed to increase wine sales by 15% so far. I would say nine out of 10 pubs have spirits on the back bar but we decided everyone knows pubs sell vodka, gin and Scotch. So, we replaced them with a wine back-bar display in the hot spot. We have also put menu cards on the table.
My music events
We have live acts once or twice a month. We've changed the night to a Saturday from a Thursday as it was hit-and-miss when people had work the next day and also neighbours are unlikely to be offended at weekends. The going rate for a band here is £150. We don't charge customers to enter, so if you are paying out that much you must make sure you get that business back over the bar.
We try to co-ordinate a varied programme - jazz is popular and at the other end of scale we have blues and classic rock.
My function room
We hold the bistro in the redecorated function room on Saturdays and hire out the room during the week. The rate depends on the day and what it is for. So, if it is being used for a meeting and we are not likely to get much revenue, we charge £50, but our charge can be as low as £20. We are putting together a package for small wedding receptions for next year. It's important to maximise your assets. We don't have a car park here so we have to make the most use of the space we do have.
My plan to grow the business
We are well prepared for the start of the smoking ban next year with our award-winning gardens, where we will install a giant heated and lit parasol for smokers. I think you ignore smokers at your peril. We are also planning to convert two rooms upstairs into B&B as we are often asked whether we do accommodation.
Turnover 2002: £190,000
Turnover 2006: £260,000
Lease: Greene King five-year tenancy, three remaining
Wet:dry split: 70%:30%
Average spend per head: £12 to £15 during the week, £20 to £25 at weekends
GP on beer: 52%
GP on food: 60%
Best seller: IPA
Staff: Four full-time, two part time
Training budget: £2,000 a year
Awards: Greene King regional garden winner 2006, regional licensees of the year 2005