In association with Barclaycard

How to grow an experience-led pubco like Pelle Pub Company

By Robert Mann

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Barclaycard

Building a pub company without a point of difference just won’t cut it these days. However, those that deliver a unique experience in their sites are set up for a fruitful future

Successful pub players build their businesses one unit at a time, usually with a simple focus. Although, these days, in a market saturated with similar basic offers, making an operation stand out is the real key to success.

The Pelle Pub Company in Cambridge, spearheaded by husband-and-wife team Steve and Hayley Pellegrini, puts exceptional experiences at the heart of each of its three venues.

The couple, who have been running pubs for more than a decade, took charge of the Portland Arms on Chesterton Road, Cambridge, in 2004. It is a large two-bar pub and has a 200-seat music venue that Hayley calls “the heart of the Cambridge music scene”.

It has taken a lot of focus and drive to maintain the site’s growth, but delivering on its unique live-music selling point undoubtedly helped pave the way for the couple to take on a second venue.

A taste of something new

So, with the Portland Arms in rude health, it was time to offer locals a taste of something new in 2011.

“We also decided to go multiple because we had excellent staff at the Portland,” Hayley says. “We wanted to allow them to develop in their careers and felt we could divide our attention.”

So, the dynamic duo took control of the Hopbine on Fair Street, Cambridge. The freehouse now specialises in local and national ales, craft beers and ciders, as well as “fantastic home-cooked food”.

Yes, it looks like a more traditional pub offering, but the duo give customers an experience through the local stories of the food and drink served at the site.

Why experiences are important

Research by Barclaycard into the value of the experience economy suggests a disconnect between consumers’ and businesses’ priorities. With Brits favouring being engaged and entertained when deciding how to spend their money, brands need to do more to match their increasing expectations.

More than half of consumers (52%) would rather pay for a good experience than splash out on material possessions such as clothes and shoes. The same figure (52%) would choose to tell their friends and peers about an enjoyable brand experience rather than a purchase they’ve made.

Such is the significance that Brits now place on having a good time that the experience a brand provides is almost equally as important as receiving value for money (81% v 83%).

Daniel Mathieson, head of sponsorship at Barclaycard, says: “To create long-lasting relationships, brands need to offer more than the best product or service – they need to tap into consumers’ hearts and minds too.

“Our data shows that consumers now seek out entertainment above all else when deciding how to spend their money so focusing on seizing this opportunity should be a key priority.”

“When we first looked at the Hopbine it was in major disrepair, but we could see the potential and wrote a business plan and decided the risk was worth it.”

With both outlets running smoothly, Steve and Hayley took the plunge and made three the magic number by taking over the Alexandra Arms on Gwydir Street, Cambridge.

The Alexandra offers a burger and beer experience in a rustic, relaxed and crafted environment. It has a distinctly different offer from Pelle’s other sites, allowing a new customer base, or those familiar with the pubco’s other sites, the chance to experience something new.

Makes each venue special

Staying focused on what makes each venue special by driving its unique selling points hard, such as the Cambridge’s music scene and the Hopbine’s local food and ale credentials, is essential to the pubco’s success.

Even with plans and themes, advises Hayley, expanding an empire doesn’t come cheap. However, seeing the rise of Pelle Pub Company shows it pays if you do your homework and focus on what makes each venue special.

“We financed the growth of the second site with a loan and the third site we managed to pay for as we went on, but this meant we couldn’t develop the business as quickly as we would have liked, but have still managed to grow the business,” Hayley says.

For others thinking of growing their pub estate, “remember, you cannot be in two places at once, so have staff that are not just well trained, but caring and empowered,” advises Hayley.

To keep on top of worries and shortfalls, she says that constant reflection on the business and forward planning is “a must”.And the ultimate piece of advice is to ensure you identify what makes each venue special, how it will offer the customers a new experience and why they should visit.

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