During the past two decades, Barons Pub Company has grown throughout the southern counties.
Following a recent £2.8m loan from HSBC, the multiple operator has laid out its plans for the future that involved acquiring more sites.
Managing director Clive Price outlined how the business started at the beginning of the Millennium. He said: “In 2000, we bought a little freehold restaurant [in Cranleigh, Surrey] called Barons Restaurant that was previously an Indian restaurant.
“Three years later we sold it and it went back to being an Indian restaurant but that was great and got us started. That was about a 70-cover restaurant.
“I had previously been working for a company called Blubeckers, which was very successful in the Surrey area at that time and I thought it would be easy and we would be full every night and what an easy game this is!
“It was a bit of a different story when we did actually open. It was a tough but it was also great. In the meantime, we bought the Star at Leatherhead, Surrey, in October 2000 and it was very obvious very quickly that was taking two or three times the amount of money for the same amount of effort as the restaurant.
“We sold the restaurant in 2003 and because the value of the building had gone up, while we made a bit of an operating loss, selling it covered it.”
Easier crowd to please
Price went on to explain how the business then expanded from the one pub to expanding relatively quickly.
He added: “We had got going at the Star, which was good because it was a time when pub-restaurants were just coming on and improving.
“We found it was easy to exceed expectations in the pub-restaurant environment whereas, in the restaurant environment, everyone is a bit more critical.
“About four years later I bought the Cricketers at Horsell, Surrey. I was living in Horsell, and still do actually. That was nice, buying a pub in my home village. At the time, I didn’t really appreciate it until I actually bought it and it was trading.
“We took it from what was a pub doing about £8,000 a week and now we can do £80,000 in the summer.”
Adding another dimension to the business has created an additional revenue stream, according to Price.
He said: “We also bought the Black Boy in Shinfield, Berkshire, in 2017 off a former business partner. We are up to 10 sites now, which is good.
“We got the Inn at West End in Woking, Surrey, in October last year, which is our first site with bedrooms.
“In November of the same year, we bought the Jovial Sailor. We didn’t start trading there until January and bought it off Greene King. It was a Chef & Brewer so we got the freehold there as well so those last two acquisitions have been freehold, which is brilliant for us.
“All the other businesses are leasehold so it is nice to get our hands on some freeholds but obviously they are very expensive, hence the big borrowing from HSBC but they have been very supportive so that’s good.
“In the middle of all that we opened a café on Horsell Common, which was something my father-in-law had been involved in so I was aware of it but it suddenly came up so we opened that in January.
“We did a refurbishment on the Jovial Sailor, Ripley, Surrey, refurb in November and December then reopened in January. All sites are trading well up to expectations, which is good.”
Write down standards
When it comes to being successful, Price puts it down to keeping everything consistent across the board.
“Something that is really important is to write standards down. After 2008, I realised if we want people to deliver these standards we have got to have it written down,” he said.
“It started with the simple stuff of photographing the food to build specs and standards around that. It used to drive me nuts when we had about three or four sites that would serve a simple dish like our potato skins but it would be entirely different in all places.
“The portion size, the crockery, the way it was topped or the garnish that went with it was crazy. You have to standardise things, spec things out and write down all your standards whether it’s a food dish or service. We spent a good few years of just really going hard at that.”
The business is currently south-east-based and there aren’t any immediate plans to expand it outside of that area.
Price said: “The pubs are about a 20 minutes’ hop away from each other so that makes it really convenient for getting to the pubs.
“It also gives great benefits that giving someone an area of three or four pubs to look after is really convenient.
“They can swap sites and they can swap staff, goods and work in other pubs. I don’t think I would ever do a random site in Bristol or halfway up the country.
“Largely, we are looking for stuff that is in that general catchment area but that covers quite a large area now from Warlingham to Reading.”