My Pub: the Kings Arms, Morecambe, Lancashire

By Simon Longbottom

- Last updated on GMT

Double standards: the Kings Arms sits on the ground floor while the adjoining Popworld brand is on the level above
Double standards: the Kings Arms sits on the ground floor while the adjoining Popworld brand is on the level above

Related tags: Stonegate pub company, Stonegate, Beer, Alcoholic beverage, Public house

Adam Hulme took over the Kings Arms as general manager almost a year ago and has seen it through a million-pound transformation. Here, he tells Stonegate boss Simon Longbottom what makes the pub tick and where he’d like the pubco to invest in its future.

About the pub

The Kings Arms was acquired by Stonegate around four years ago as part of the TCG Group acquisition.

Approximately 10 months ago, Stonegate invested just over £1m in refurbishing the site. That included renovating the bottom floor and the first floor, which has been turned into a Popworld so, in a way, it’s a dual site where we have two different brands operating under one roof – the proper pub and Popworld.

The focus downstairs is much more on food and there’s a huge opportunity for that now. Previously, the Kings Arms used to be more about the nightlife. It was a bit of an institution for the past 30 years. But with Popworld upstairs, we can keep the two different parts of the business separate, so neither affects the other and that’s worked really well for us.

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How does the night offer work?

Because the pub was so busy and hadn’t had any investment for so long, it was looking very tired and it was the sort of place where you wiped your feet as you left the pub, as opposed to doing it when you walked in.

After the refurbishment, people were coming into Morecambe looking for somewhere to eat and visiting the pub for the first time to dine or have a nice drink.

It benefited because we’ve been able to take that night-time element upstairs and concentrate on food downstairs. As a result, we’ve seen the food sales grow enormously over the past 10 months and we’ve got a great reputation, especially on review sites.

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The general manager

When I was 17, I had a place at Sheffield Hallam University that I deferred for a year because I wanted to see what real life was like. I worked in a pub as a cleaner in Knutsford, Cheshire, because I was too young to work behind a bar.

But, as soon as I was 18, I went on to the bar and became bar manager and then went to university, where I studied recreational management. I travelled back every weekend to work for Scottish & Newcastle hotels in different venues around the Cheshire area.

The day I left university, I moved into a hotel in Knutsford and then two-and-a-half years later, I was made general manager of the Highfield hotel in Middlesbrough. Then I was moved around Scottish & Newcastle before Spirit bought the restaurants division and that’s when I decided to go and do something for myself.

I left the managed side of the trade and moved to the South Lakes [of the Lake District] and bought a small hotel and restaurant. I was director of my own business and was very successful.

But we saw the smoking ban looming and the associated pressures. Coming from a managed pub background, I felt comfortable going back to that and it was the right decision, so I came to work for the Barracuda Group. Following that move, the business I ran went bust, so it was just the right time to get out.

So I worked my way through Barracuda and then went to Bramwell then, eventually, Stonegate bought Bramwell. I was with them for a couple of years and went to JW Lees in Manchester, because I wanted a change of pace away from the night-time economy. But I realised really quickly that I missed what Stonegate was doing and its entrepreneurial flair.

I moved to Lancaster to the Crafty Scholar, which was a recently refurbished Yates pub and I was super successful there with Heather Brindle and Emma Randle.

Together, we were Managed Pub of the Year two years ago and, last year, we were Drinks Pub of the Year for Stonegate. Then Stonegate said they had a new investment coming up, which was the biggest in the company and would I be interested. It was a new challenge for me, we’d done so well at the Crafty Scholar and it was time to move on, so here we are 10 months later.

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The food

We opened the Kings Arms with a menu that had been running for some time already and it was a success straight away because the environment had changed.

There’s such an emphasis here on customer service and we have the company’s ‘Great Serve’ implemented here. This is focused on reviews, answering queries, making sure we look at the feedback to improve our offer and customer service. That really helped us with the service style.

We have a unique kitchen here that is limited in space. However, through innovation and renewed emphasis on our food offer we’ve broken our food record several times already this year. Doing so well on food brings unique challenges for us because there’s a very tight team in there, but they all work very well together, they are working closely with the front-of-house team too.

There is an area food operations manager who comes in to support our kitchen team. They also help to optimise the space as and when new kitchen equipment is delivered to the pub.

Food records were broken because it was the right time of the year with plenty of footfall in Morecambe, the weather was good and there were events on organised by the council. It was really busy for weeks in a row. It’s going to take some time to beat it again.

It was also about organisation. We knew it was coming and it was about being organised and ready for it by having the right people in the right places.

What also really helped was our new menu launch before the summer, with a big focus on burgers and wings and not really about having discounting offers like two-for-one. We didn’t need that.

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The drinks

We have our standard pricing that is set for everybody, but we introduced a ‘locals card’ in the early part of the year for when we didn’t have the tourists in the likes of January and February. The locals card offers discounts on key lines and it just drops the price for locals coming in seven days a week and that works really well.

There’s also a slightly different pricing structure in Popworld that’s aimed at the late-night market and then a small number of items on the locals card.

This is the first pub I’ve run that sells more gin than vodka. We have a great range of gins and if I had a bigger bar, I’d put an even bigger display there.

I’d like to put more cask in because we’ve got a growing reputation for it here, but again slightly limited for space on the bar, so it’s about working with the company to get more in and get that reputation growing, using the local beers from around the area and the lakes.

Our wet:dry split is sometimes 50:50 because it’s so heavy on food, but generally it’s 60:40 to wet – and that’s weighted by Popworld.

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The team

We have 16 to 17 staff and that’s combined with Popworld’s full-time and part-time employees. We have a lot of full-timers. We’ve had to use the Albert’s theory of progression as an incentive to get staff who want a career in hospitality, so a lot of that means full-time members.

After Heather and Emma moved on to run their own sites, I needed people coming up the ranks, so I’ve got four others who have just passed the ‘Albert’s Award’ course, which is about the basics of running a site. I’ve had another member of staff who has just started her Albert’s Award course. She’s in Didsbury in Manchester, and is starting on her journey. So it’s all about bringing them through, keeping progression going, maintaining the staff and giving them an incentive and career. We ran a recruitment night at the Crafty Scholar recently and it was evident some people saw the opportunity to develop a career in hospitality and that we can offer them a pathway to management. It’s nice to have a mix because I can’t have everybody being a manager.

Moving up the ranks

Heather Brindle, holding manager, Pendle Witch, Lancaster

I started working at Yates eight years ago in Lancaster as a glass collector while I was going to university. Over the years, I worked my way up as a team member and then a team leader as I finished my university course on teaching, but I decided that I wanted to work full time in the pub trade and Adam made me deputy manager four years ago. Then I worked with Adam for a few years and, last July, I came over to the Kings Arms and held it for three months, which was interesting because I could see the before and after of the refurbishment. In February this year, I went back to the Crafty Scholar for four months and I’ve been running the Pendle Witch in Lancaster for two months. I’ve done my Albert’s Awards and I’m currently on my Accolade and, as soon as I’ve done that, I’ll hopefully be on my Accelerator course.

The next step as part of my Accolade course is going from running the Pendle Witch to becoming the permanent general manager once I’ve completed the course. That’s the goal.

Emma Randle, deputy manager, Crafty Scholar, Lancaster

I started with Stonegate in December 2014 where I worked at Yates in Lancaster that changed its name to the Crafty Scholar when Adam came along in 2015. Then I was only part time, working Friday and Saturday nights, and when it changed to the Crafty Scholar, I decided to take on more hours and days.

When Adam got the opportunity to try something new, it was three-and-a-half years working alongside him and he asked me if I wanted to come over and help here and I said yes, because I like a new challenge.

I worked at the Kings Arms for about eight months and then got an opportunity to go back to the Crafty Scholar and I thought yes, because I like a challenge so I went back there.

I’m the first person in the north to have graduated from the online Accolade programme. I won’t be going on to the Accelerator course as soon as Heather did. I want to wait two years because I feel like I’ve got so much more to pick up along the way and I don’t want to rush it.

Adam Hulme, general manager, the Kings Arms, Morecambe

The good thing about the company is there are always the opportunities there and it won’t just tick boxes for number purposes, it’s about finding the right people at the right time and having a bank of them ready to move up. Emma was the first person to be signed off in the north on the online Accolade programme.

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The future

I want to continue growing the business as we are by keeping the focus on food and we’re working on plans for the shoulder trading months to maintain our performance.

But we’re certainly taking a good chunk of market share from some of our larger competitors and predators in the area. We see Popworld continuing to evolve by changing the theme of the nights to keep it fresh. It’s very new for Morecambe to have a branded nightclub, so we’re unique in that sense but we need to change the theme every three months. At the moment, we have a beach party theme on, but we can’t run that during the winter, so we’re going to do more like a winter wonderland theme on Saturday nights.

I’ve learnt a lot about seasonality and the opportunities thrown up by the big events that are run by the council and the other authorities in the area. This means I know how to set the business up for the next year. What I won’t do is put anything on down here that’s going to damage the food business.

I’ve got an idea for next year too; there’s a big space around the back that is a sun trap. We changed the furniture at the front of the pub, which has been a real success this year.

As a result, we had some old benches left over – they were painted, but were still just benches. We wanted to encourage customers to sit outside and therefore needed new furniture for them. So, we put the old benches in the car park and people just started to take drinks out there and sit on them because it is a sun trap.

So, the outdoor seating is working on the front, but we don’t get the sun there until the evening. The benches we painted are catering to customers in the back of the pub too and we hope to offer more seating there soon.

Ultimately, we’re going to keep evolving and keep raising standards.

Related topics: Marketing

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