It was a natural extension from our brewing business to opening a public house, and we looked at quite a few locations before we went to look at the Plume of Feathers in Barlaston, which lacked investment.
We could easily see there was a clear opportunity to develop it, from refurbishment to improving the range of the offer.
The first time I took Neil up with his partner, Emma, I asked Emma what she would like to drink. She said she would like a glass of wine and the barman said they had no wine at all. Immediately, we knew there was a great business opportunity to be had here.
The pub also really fitted in with what we visualised we were looking for. What we wanted to be was what we call a community destination pub.
We are part of the community, but also where people will drive in, predominantly to eat with us.
We’ve invested £500,000 in the site, improving the outside with planters, resurfacing the car park and opening up the pub internally to create a free-flow, all the way through.
With Neil being involved, we have areas where it tells you all about Neil and elements of his career and life, but it’s not all about him.
The area has a great demographic profile. The surrounding village of Barlaston has a mixture of white collar and blue collar people; it is a lovely village.
There is a big community there, the population is about 2,500 people in Barlaston. Plus, you have people from Stoke-on-Trent on one side and, moving across, from Stafford nearby as well.
There are also clear opportunities being located by a canal, and we overlook a bowling green. There’s lots of scope.
We do pull people in from all over. The people on holiday on the narrow boats can come from the other side of the world.
Fortunately, I have a business partner who is a well-liked celebrity, which is a big positive. He has a very interesting life with his upbringing and childhood to where he is now.
So, there is a fascinating story there if anyone is interested. Neil is regularly at the pub. It’s not a Jamie Oliver restaurant where you would never see him there.
Neil is a regular who knows the regular customers and spends time talking to them.
There are people who will go round and read all the boards, but, there are other people who are not interested and like the location of the pub. They may comment: “It’s all about Neil Morrissey” and it’s about getting that balance. We think we have done that.
We are child friendly and dog friendly. We have customers that range from children with their parents, through to the more mature of society.
You know, we have background music, we don’t have live music, we don’t have pool tables. We don’t have any of those things, but we are an environment for all people
Myself and Neil first met over the beer brewing business, which is called Neil Morrissey Real Ale.
That is how we got together and it was a natural extension into the pub. We set up the Plume of Feathers as a test with the intention of developing a chain at more locations. We have known each other eight or nine years and now we are very good friends as well.
Neil had been involved in running a pub in the past, before I met him, and obviously, he learnt lots of lessons from that. I had been around the industry for many years and what we have now is something that is extremely successful.
We have a general manager, Stuart Langthorne, who is very good. He is a strong people person and the most important thing in our business.
If we are not there and I ring up, the first question I ask is, “is everybody happy?” Not only the customers, but the staff as well.
The most important thing is we want people to come and have a great customer experience. Stuart is exceptionally good at that, he is very well liked by the customers and has a great personality; he is first class at that.
As we’re looking to build a chain, we want to make sure we have procedures and policies in place so we can say: “Right, let’s replicate this somewhere else”.
We work as a team, a strong team of Neil, myself, John Sykes our finance director, Stuart our general manager and Bruce Mackie as head chef.
With around 30 staff, full and part time, it’s important to keep them happy and Stuart is far better at it than me.
We want the Plume of Feathers to be a nice place to work and we want staff that are presentable, knowledgeable and want to work for the business. We don’t want people who are just there to earn the money.
We do run incentives as well. We ran some wine training for the new wine lists. The staff thought that was fantastic and we did a quiz at the end with prizes.
Occasionally, I’ll put a personal incentive in place in relevance to tips. Whoever achieves the most tips, for example, on Father’s Day, I stated I will double it out of my own pocket.
You couldn’t believe it, we had the best day for tips ever. It proves that it works.
The first thing is we are a pub that serves great food. And if we talk about our wet offer, we stock up to 10 real ales, there aren’t many locations that permanently have 10 real ales on and we keep them very, very well.
We try to ensure that the range is as broad as possible, so offer a wide spread of ABVs, from a session ale at 3.8% through to Jaipur, which is 5.9%.
Anybody that likes real ale will find we have something for everybody. We do the paddles, which offer beers in thirds, as well, if people want to try them.
Our own beer, Morrissey Blonde is proving to be very successful – it’s outselling Doom Bar, which is a national brand, by two and a half times the volume.
For the lager drinkers, we have a good range from Carling through to Estrella. We also Stella Artois in there due to the Men Behaving Badly connection, although Neil doesn’t actually drink it himself!
When we originally opened, our motto was it’s a great pub that sells great beer, great pub food and great coffee.
Food-wise, we’re aiming very much along the lines of traditional pub food.
We’ve got Bruce on board now and we waited a quarter of the year for him; 12 weeks, as he had an excellent pedigree, and sales have improved every week.
The menu is developing as we go, as we understand the things that work and those that don’t. We want to deliver to the people what they want.
We have no desire to be a Michelin-star kind of place, that’s not where we want to be. We want to offer very good, fresh food.
We do a pub quiz every week on a Wednesday evening and we’ve brought in a techno quiz, which is a massive draw.
People compete through their smartphone using an app and we get one of the local radio presenters, Paul Fairclough from Signal 2, to host the quiz.
We had up to 120 people playing. It varies every week and we offer prizes, incentives and vouchers.
Innovation is key, we are always looking at seeing what’s the next thing, how can we make this different.
What we don’t want to be is the pub that just does the same old quiz every week. We want to continue to develop it, continue to refresh it to make it different.
On occasion, Neil will come down and act as assistant quiz master.
Once a year we always have a big event outside where we have things for the children during the day, rides and face painting and we will have live bands in the car park.
The parish council has really embraced it as well, as it brings the community together.