Pub success: Stepping up a gear

By Liam Coleman contact

- Last updated on GMT

The only way is up: there are many ways to maximise a site
The only way is up: there are many ways to maximise a site

Related tags: Pub, British pub awards, Great british pub, Best sports pub

You’ve realised the dream and have the keys to your own pub. Now that you have your foot in the door, it’s time to think about how you can make the most of the site.

We all understand the concept of expectations versus reality; the reality is that one can never fulfil one’s expectations. Such negative thinking need not be the case for pub owners.

It is true that when a licensee first steps inside a pub, there will be a vast gap between the current reality of the site and the licensee’s long-term vision. Minding that gap is the fundamental challenge facing pub owners on a day-to-day basis and overcoming it is something that can take years, if not decades, of laboured love.

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Dominic Worrall has spent 14 years transforming the Bull in Ditchling, East Sussex, into the pub that was, last year, named the best in the country at the Great British Pub Awards, but he says it has been a constant struggle.

“I never allow myself to feel satisfied or to think that we have the perfect pub and that has been key to maximising the site.

“On a positive note, that drives me on to needing to achieve something better for the customers and the staff. As a team, we never rest on our laurels or let ourselves feel the business is complete,” he maintains.

So, what options are available to licensees to maximise their site and make sure they are never resting on their laurels?

No matter how refined the food, drink or entertainment offer is, customers are unlikely to want to return to the pub if it doesn’t look appealing.

Maximising accomodation

Dominic Worrall of the Bull, Ditchling, East Sussex, explains how he and his team have taken full advantage of accommodation as an earner.

“The rooms existed when we opened the pub, but were like something dropped out of an episode of Fawlty Towers. The floors were so uneven they gave you a headache after a night’s sleep because the beds were on a downward slope,” Worrall explains.

“We knew this was a vital part of the business and were inspired by the shabby-chic styling of places such as Babington House [in Somerset] and wanted to translate that on a smaller scale. The main driver being that an amazing bed, a great shower and a fantastic breakfast could cover any other shortcomings while we learnt our trade. We felt it was crucial that you felt at home the moment you arrived and part of our family, rather than being just a guest.

“In the 14 years we have owned the Bull, we have transformed the bedrooms three times, with complete refurbishments and constant upgrades. As the sector has developed for the better and with something of a reputation ourselves, it’s important to not be complacent and to keep pushing, particularly on customer service.”

Huge refit at the Winchmore

Having been closed for three years, the Winchmore, in Winchmore Hill, north London, needed a £440,000 refurbishment when Mark and Eimear Walsh took on the site 20
months ago.

The brother and sister run the site on a lease from Star Pubs & Bars and the pubco financed the lion’s share of the refit. Star contributed £330,000 towards the refit and the Walsh siblings made up the remaining £110,000.

For such a substantial amount of money, it’s no surprise that the refit was huge. It involved a complete overhaul of the pub by changing its layout, installing an open-theatre-style kitchen with a pizza oven and converting the upstairs restaurant into a function room.

There is, however, no need to break the bank with a big refurbishment of a site as soon as you step through the door for the first time. Not all licensees will have major financial backing and, for that reason, capitalising on gaps in the market and steadily stepping up the offer is an option.

Best Sports Pub in 2015

The Gardeners Arms, also known as the Murderers, has an enviable sport offer and was named as Best Sports Pub at the 2015 Great British Pub Awards. Yet Phil Cutter, the licensee of the pub in Norwich, Norfolk, has revealed that the plan never was to make sport such a driver of trade.

“We have been here for 30 years and Sky Sports started around 25 years ago, but it wasn’t always the intention to make sport such a central part of the offer,” he says.

“Sky Sports wasn’t widely shown when it first came around and it was just a good way to bring people in. Over the course of time, our reputation has snowballed. It wasn’t a conscious effort to take it forward and make it a central aspect of the pub, it was more of a case of sport finding us, and we noticed quite quickly that there was a demand for it.”

Despite not initially making a conscious effort to push the sport offer in the pub, Cutter says that the pub has since realised that the need to constantly adapt and evolve has been key to the sustained success of sport in the pub.

“You can’t sit back on your laurels even once you have the best facilities in the city. You then need to be thinking about what the next development will be.”

The result is that the Murderers has spent what Cutter estimates to be at least £30,000 in just upgrading TV equipment over the past 10 years because the pub adapts to every
technological development in the entertainment market.

However, help has been at hand from the local community to fund those additions. “We have built up a relationship with local suppliers who are willing to let us hire the latest technology on a deal where they then advertise within the pub,” Cutter explains.

At the heart of the community

Worrall from the Bull agrees that being at the heart of the local community and promoting local businesses has led to reciprocal benefits for his pub, which in turn has helped to maximise the site.
“We offer printed walking trails and recommend other interesting local places and craftsmen to visit,” he explains.

“The Bull is more than the sums of its parts and we truly stretch the imagination of our customers by engaging with other brilliant businesses around us to ensure that someone visiting has an amazing experience with both us and the surrounding area.”

There is little doubt that overcoming the gap between the reality of the pub and the expectations of your dream is an arduous and expensive journey.

However, by working with figures both inside and outside of the pub trade, it is an achievable goal and one that should see operators thrive when they throw themselves into the exercise.

Related topics: Property law

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