Ainsty Inns' owner reveals why he swapped the motor trade for the pub industry

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Powering ahead: Ainsty Inns is preparting to open its seventh site in five years
Powering ahead: Ainsty Inns is preparting to open its seventh site in five years

Related tags: Public house, Inn

Former motor industry man Antony Pratt decided to swap the car keys for pub keys and really moved up a gear when his Ainsty Inns business expanded.

After more than a decade in the prestige motor industry, Antony Pratt decided to take change gears and take over his local pub, despite never having pulled a pint in his life.

“I always enjoy eating out and a lot of what I did in the motor trade involved customer service,” says the now boss of Ainsty Inns. My local had changed hands a couple of times including being looked after by tenancy-at-will (TAW) operators in quick succession and it was dire.

Ainsty Inns sites:

■ The Chequers, Bilton-in-Ainsty – opened 2012
■ Swan & Talbot, Wetherby – opened 2013
■ The Beehive, Thorner – opened 2013
■ Duke of York Inn, Gate Helmsley – opened 2016
■ Minster Inn, York – opened 2016
■ The White Swan, Wighill – opened 2016
■ The Plum & Partridge, Husthwaite – due to open 2017

“I remember sitting in the pub one day and having the lightbulb moment of thinking I could do a better job than this. Those were my famous last words!” And so, Ainsty Inns was born in 2012 with the opening of the Chequers Inn, at Bilton-in-Ainsty, North Yorkshire and a further five sites in the York area with another one set to open next month.

A combination of factors

Pratt is humble and doesn’t put the success of the group down to a single attribute, but says it is thanks to a combination of factors.

He adds: “There isn’t one thing I could say that makes us successful but it is a multitude of things including the team, products, service and supplies.”

But he does say after almost five years in the trade, there have been huge learning curves along the way.

“My biggest mistake is not doing enough research into the marketplace for a venue,” Pratt admits.

He refers to when Ainsty opened its fourth site in August 2013 – a former Yates’s Wine Lodge venue that had a large square footage with a high-street position and an attractive rent proposal from Enterprise Inns.

However, when something comes up that appears to be the perfect formula, it’s not always guaranteed to be a smooth drive, as Pratt explains.

“We did the refurbishment of the site and went vastly over budget meaning we lost about £300,000 in just under 12 months as the venue gained no traction whatsoever.”

The biggest error

Unfortunately, this resulted in Ainsty serving its notice on the site and handing the lease back to Enterprise Inns. This isn’t the only hiccup Pratt admits to but, on a macro scale, this was the biggest error.

“The industry has changed significantly, particularly when it comes to the training we have had to complete such as allergen awareness training,” he says.

“I also think we grew too quickly as we have gone from a relatively small company to having 110 staff in just under five years.

“There is a constant battle against spiralling overheads, cost increases, minimum wage rises and increases in the cost of goods.

“But the key is managing those costs successfully – passing them on to the consumer, but ensuring it is managed in terms of representing the value of it.”

The fast and challenging, yet prosperous, path Ainsty Inns has taken is a shining example of the benefits available to multi-site operators.

However, when it comes to making the decision to become a multi-site operator, Pratt says the first step is without doubt the most difficult.

Taking the hardest step

“Single site to multi-site is the hardest step, so ensuring there is a robust team in place at the original site, where you know you can spend time away from them and it still runs as if you are there, is crucial.

“Having to learn to cut the apron strings can be the hardest thing because the first site is your baby and moving to another site means staff have to deal with issues without you spoon-feeding them.”

Learning from mistakes

The recipe for triumph when in the multi-site game, Pratt emphasises, is something he learnt from his mistakes.

“Not doing enough research into the marketplace of a venue and who the target market is crucial and that was my biggest mistake to learn from.

“Would I do some things differently? Yes, I probably would. But would that make it successful? I couldn’t guarantee that.”

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