The family business
South-east pub company, Thorley Taverns, has been going for more than 40 years after being set up by the father of operations director Philip Thorley. He tells us about their portfolio of 20 unique sites
My father started the business and I’ve been working with him ever since I was a kid; I used to bottle up when I was young, I then worked behind the bar and ran a pub with my then girlfriend now wife when we were 18. So as you can see I’ve pretty much been doing it all my life. My dad and I still work together. He may be 80 years old, but he still works every day.
We trade in probably almost every format that is known in the licensing area. We go from a 44-bedroom hotel with function rooms to a community local. In the middle of that, we have got a seafood restaurant, a family pub, a late-night venue and a fresh food pub with an offer that changes every day. So we go across the sector and do things that are different in every venue; highlighted by the fact that we don’t have anywhere with the same menus.
We have been with Coca-Cola and Schweppes for the entire time that we’ve been operating, so we have been trading with them for more than 40 years. As a result, we actually pioneered their designated driver scheme a number of years ago.
It is something that we are proud to continue every year and it is one of those things that is win-win. It is very good for us; it is very good for our customers; and there is a very good corporate responsibility matter in there. Being the designated driver does not seem like a negative; it’s a positive because they can have free drinks.
We have been doing it for well over 10 years. It was something we trialled with them in the first instance, but it has since been rolled out around the country with different managed operations. Our teams and our managers like it as a positive offer to be giving over the festive period and our customers equally embrace it because it is such a sensible thing to do when celebrating.
It is one of the many reason that people will be coming to us over the festive period. It is such a good thing to do. We have six venues where we will be doing Christmas party menus, which will result in us doing between 7,000 and 8,000 Christmas party meals over December. A large number of those people will have a designated driver with them and they actively take up the free Coca-Cola offer.
In the summer we have 400 employees and in the winter it drops to about 350; making us the second biggest employer in our area after the hospital. We have got a very low turnover of staff, particularly in management and permanent chef positions, because we have a very good honesty ethic in the company both in regard to communication and action. Having 20 sites within 10 minutes of our head office means that I have a genuine relationship with our staff and they are not just names on a payroll.
Our company’s biggest achievement is ongoing reinvestment in our sites and our people. In the future, we are looking to continue to expand by buying more freeholds and to be creating more investment and jobs.