According to Hippo Inns managing director Rupert Clevely, creating company culture is vital in growing a successful customer-facing business.
Since 1995, Rupert Clevely, managing director of Hippo Inns, has seen consumer demands change drastically.
“Today, the customers’ expectations are massive,” he says. “Their expectation is that they’re going to walk into a pub, get great service, the food’s going to be amazing and that they’re going to be served quickly by friendly faces.
The whole thing has literally swung on its axis.
“Business is much harder today. Because more and more places have opened, the competition is far greater – 23 years ago we didn’t have Pret a Manger, Costa Coffee, Carluccio’s, all these high street brands. Casual dining hadn’t really been invented.”
Nonetheless, the London-based Ei Group managed investment business recently opened site number 12 – alpine themed, all-day eating, drinking and entertainment venue the White Haus, adorned with memorabilia provided by the Ski Club of Great Britain.
“I received a telephone call from a lady who said ‘I happen to work with the Ski Club of Great Britain. We’re selling our offices, moving to a new space and we’ve got a lot of memorabilia. Do you know anyone who might be interested in taking it?’ I said: ‘I think I might – I’ll ring you back.’ I rang my partner and she said ‘let’s go for it, let’s create somewhere with a ski or mountain feel.’”
Culture and collaboration
Clevely advises that in an increasingly competitive industry, “finding a good partner” offers unique access to sites and ventures.
“Young’s and Fuller’s are very successful. Their balance sheets are very strong, they can afford to borrow and they’re producing lots of cash. They can afford to buy the best pubs,” he says. “The Ei relationship is great because they offer me sites and the opportunity to create a new business.”
With this in place, he explains that company culture is the foundation upon which a successful customer-facing business can grow.
“How do you create a culture from day one? It’s about very clear training and setting out your stall from the very early stages as to what it is that you expect from your team and being resolute and determined, even in adversity, to making sure that you stick to your culture.
“When you open a new site for example, you have great ambitions, goals and lines in the sand about what you expect, but the reality is when you open the doors, it’s often very different to what you think it’s going to be.
“If you can get the culture right, it’s amazing how the rest of the business flows through to customers – happy staff equal happy customers.
“I can create that great culture in the office, and that great culture can create great culture in the pubs, then the customers can buy into that and support it.”
For Clevely it’s vital to attract staff who buy into this company ethos. “If you get the culture right, the people will come,” he says. “It’s easier now we’ve got 12 sites because people really start to feel part of a family because the business is growing, developing, becoming more exciting and we’re getting better at it.
“The big issue is making sure that we employ the right people – that is key to all customer-facing businesses, it’s only as good as the people you employ.
“It’s not about just great service, it’s about hospitality. It’s not just about whether the food arrives on time, it’s about feeling that my staff have been hospitable, then people will come back time and time again because they’ve had a great time and hospitality experience.
We’re in the hospitality business and that’s key.”
Interested in working in the pub industry? Then take a look at MA’s jobs site.
Tech and customer engagement (in association with Barclaycard)
While good customer engagement will always rely on having skilled, well-trained employees, pubs should also consider installing tech solutions that can give them deeper insights into their customer base.
For example, modern digital point of sale (PoS) systems can provide data on the types of food and drinks people order, average order size, what time of day different drinks are popular, etc.
This can help pub owners streamline their menus, offering customers more of what they want and potentially removing unpopular products. It might even help pub owners get a head start on the next big drinks trend.
There are numerous forms of tech available for pub operators, from servers using iPads as PoS systems to take orders and payments, to apps and card schemes that offer loyalty points and special promotions.
It won’t be the right fit for all brands, but Wetherspoon has an app that streamlines the customer experience by letting people order food and drinks without leaving their table. It isn’t just about making sure everyone pays for their round – it eliminates queues at the bar and makes it faster to place an order.