Potential for 500 Loungers’ sites

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Class act: Loungers' co-founder and chairman Alex Reilley (left) believes that the company can match the scale of some of Britain's best-known brands
Class act: Loungers' co-founder and chairman Alex Reilley (left) believes that the company can match the scale of some of Britain's best-known brands
Loungers boss Alex Reilley has claimed the café bar group can easily compete with the likes of JD Wetherspoon, Pret and Greggs for scale, with plans to launch sites at a rate of 25 a year.

The company currently operates 142 sites across the UK under the Cosy Club and Lounge bar concepts, of which there are 23 and 119 respectively, he said at the Casual Dining Show.

However, Reilley would like to continue with plans to open roughly one new venue a fortnight, equating to 25 a year.

Asked whether Loungers could replicate the scale of industry giants such as JD Wetherspoon, Pret or Greggs, Reilly said he saw potential to rub shoulders with high street mainstays by expanding to around 500 sites – 100 Cosy Clubs and 400 Lounges.

The company, which will celebrate its 17th ​year in August this year, will see both a new Lounge Bar in Sheffield and its 24th ​Cosy Club venue open in March as it continues to target secondary cities and provincial locations. 

However, despite ambitious plans for growth, Reilley explained that the company’s growth had so far been fairly measured.

“It might appear that we’ve not been around that long but we’d been doing our thing in the Bristol suburbs,” he said. 

'Selfishly motivated mission'

“We were all restaurant operators and we wanted somewhere to go ourselves – it was a very selfishly motivated mission. We certainly didn’t set out in 2002 to be talking about a business that does £150m in sales.”

“We can certainly break into multiple hundred locations in the UK,” he said. “We’re in locations JDW aren’t and that Costa aren’t yet. We think about 400 Lounges as a conservative number.”

Yet, Reilley stated that plans wouldn’t come at the expense of the company’s close-knit structure. “Operational structure is really important,” he added. “Communicating with general managers and chefs.”

“We believe that you have to work harder to protect what’s made the business very special and I can say today that our culture has never been stronger.

“We can grow the business to become extremely large without it becoming corporate.

“For us it’s remembering what we do. We provide hospitality, food and drink in an environment where people can enjoy those things. As long as you don’t lose sight of the two most important things, your people and your customers.

“If we’re making decisions at head office that don’t impact our people or our customers, then we’re putting work and investment into something we shouldn’t be bothering with.”

Customer feedback successes

Success had so far derived from being a customer feedback-orientated business, rather than doing anything "off the wall", he claimed.

“We’re a bit feedback obsessed to be honest,” he said. “I receive all the emails we get through to the main email account where the customers send feedback to.”

He explained that operators of Loungers’ sites were acutely aware of what customers were saying, with general managers observing a constant stream of feedback and encouraged to respond within four hours. “I know business that have turned TripAdvisor and reviews off because it’s depressing, but it’s really, really important.

Reflecting on the company’s recent sales mix, Reilley explained that the last two or three years had yielded significant like-for-like growth in food sales during the day, with brunch growing significantly. 

He added: “What’s happening on the drinks side is really interesting. We’ve had a mantra that you need to constantly innovate, but businesses that stop and have a brainstorm will confuse their customers. 

“Customers are seeking something that’s a bit more innovative, they’re not being driven by the need to drink volume or by cheap prices.” 

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