Five lessons from Stonegate’s success

By Simon Longbottom

- Last updated on GMT

Secrets to success: Stonegate has ‘grown up’ with 770 locations across the UK, employing 15,000 people
Secrets to success: Stonegate has ‘grown up’ with 770 locations across the UK, employing 15,000 people

Related tags: Stonegate pub company, Public house

Five years and 12 major acquisitions after chief executive Simon Longbottom joined the business, Stonegate Pub Company is on the cusp of becoming the UK’s largest pub operator. Here he reveals five lessons underpinning the company’s growth.

Stonegate to buy Ei Group for £1.3bn

As reported on 18 July 2019, Stonegate Pub Company agreed to buy pubco Ei Group for £1.27bn. The deal will see the operator’s estate rise by 4,000 sites, making Stonegate the UK’s largest pub owner.

Deal

In October 2014, Simon Longbottom took the helm of Stonegate Pub Company – a business formed in 2010 from the embers of Laurel Pub Company and the acquisition of 333 unwanted pubs and bars from rivals M&B.

Fast forward five years and 12 major acquisitions – and the ‘fledgling’ pub company now stands as a dominant force on the UK high street combining all-day pubs, cocktail bars and late-night venues.

Stonegate has ‘grown up’ with 770 locations across the UK, employing 15,000 people. In an ever-changing marketplace and with an offer so diverse, we asked Simon for his tops tips on how to grow your pub business.

Tip 1 – Build a winning culture

Set the foundations of your business in the form of vision and values. At Stonegate, our vision is to be ‘the best drink-led pub company in the UK by restoring Britain’s pub heritage’ and we use this vision to help filter out unneeded distractions or activities.

To underpin this vision we talked to a cross section of our employees to create five values which live and breathe throughout the company. Spelling out the word ‘FIRST’ (a nod to our competitive nature) they are: we have ‘Fun’ in everything we do, we ‘Invest’ wisely, we’re ‘Raring’ to go, we’re ‘Straight forward’ and we’re one ‘Team’ at all times.

Having a clear vision and a supporting set of values is not just something that is important for larger companies, it is key for individual pubs to succeed and thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Tip 2 – Train the best

Over the years, we have created a pathway where driven individuals can see a clear line of sight to progress their careers – we call this our ‘bar to boardroom’ philosophy.

It starts with our training programme ATOP (Albert’s theory of progression), which in any given year has more than 2,000 of our employees enrolled in formal learning.

This leads into management roles and I’m proud to say that some 40% of our current GMs have been promoted from within, and that a half of our area managers are homegrown.

A by-product of investing so much in training and progression is that our team turnover has reduced by 35% in five years, and nine out of 10 colleagues in the business would recommend Stonegate as a place to work to their friends or family.

Some cynics still say that the risk of investing in people is that you train them for others to poach. Our track record shows that investing in people drives retention and engagement with the business.

Tip 3 - We embrace our diversity

To many pub operators, such a diverse portfolio of brands and formats would be a distraction or a weakness but, here at Stonegate, we see it as a strategic strength.

It allows us to trade our ‘Stonegate street’ approach in many UK cities, where multiple formats can trade side-by-side without directly competing. It enables us to test and trial our propositions within our formats, roll out emerging trends faster, and share best practice within. It also allows our pre-booked sales structure to flourish. In several key UK cities, we can now help arrange a stag or hen weekend that covers brunch to club and everything in between.

Tip 4 – It’s all about experience

Creating amazing experiences is what we do best here. Customers don’t just want a drink and something to eat, they want a memorable experience and often one that is shareable via Instagram or Snapchat.

Whether it’s the best place to watch sport, live music, an unforgettable night in Popworld or a cocktail you’ve never tried before in Be At One, we strive to create a great experience and atmosphere for our customers on every occasion.

To do this, we plan all our key date activity six months ahead to ensure we’re giving the customer enough time to plan their night out. We also believe in ‘fishing where the fish are’ and pay focus to pay weekends and key dates. As a result, our sales on key dates and events were up 7% YOY in 2019.

Tip 5 – Celebrate success

We are lucky to have won more than 35 awards in the past five years and it’s all down to our amazing team. We always celebrate our successes.

Every Monday, we nominate a ‘Pub of the week’ and the 52 winning GMs go on the ‘Chairman’s trip’ hosted by our legendary chairman Ian Payne MBE. We also have our annual Stonegate awards where 35 of our team get to go on a ‘money can’t buy’ trip to South Africa.

We host winners dinners for top GMs and members of our support team in every part of the business twice a year, and we are always running incentives for our teams – whether they be associated with the sale of certain products, at key times of the year or simply providing amazing service. Finally, we financially incentivise our team to deliver and, in the past 12 months, over 55% of our general managers, deputy managers and kitchen managers were awarded a bonus.

Related topics: MA500 Business Club

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