‘Having a specific, very niche offer and keeping on-trend can be dangerous’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Inn it to win it: managing director of The Inn Collection Group Sean Donkin (L)
Inn it to win it: managing director of The Inn Collection Group Sean Donkin (L)

Related tags: Pub, Public house, Hotel

When private funding came in for The Inn Collection Group in 2013, its expansion was fast.

The Inn Collection Group was formed in November 2013, to accept investment from a private equity partner.

Before this, there were three trading sites in Northumberland but investment resulted in immediate growth and expansion of the business into North Yorkshire, County Durham and a further Northumberland unit, bringing the estate to seven sites. The group has since grown to 10 units and is poised for further expansion.

Based across the north of England, the group aims to deliver excellence in customer service, value for money and quality across the estate with a company ethos of providing customers with the perfect place to eat, drink, sleep and explore.

Its pubs aim to play an important role in neighbourhoods by supporting local charities, sourcing locally and engaging with community initiatives.

The multiple operator was given the go-ahead for a 40-bedroom site on the seafront earlier this month.

The city’s council planning committee has approved an application from the pub group that means the pub with rooms can go ahead on land at Seaburn, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear.

The development will be designed with 40 bedrooms across three floors as well as a bar and eatery, which will provide covers all year round.

The business also announced it was continuing to seek out new development opportunities in the Lake District and Yorkshire as well as within the north-east.

Stay true to values

Managing director Sean Donkin highlighted how having belief in your plans can make all the different to business.

He said: “Not listening to our inner selves and looking at other people, making assumptions that their way has to be the better way to do it, and going too far down the route before having the courage of your own convictions to do what you believe is right, even though ‘experts’ may not agree. We stay true to our key values.”

Inn Collection Group (1)

However, when it comes to looking inside the business and planning to expand, other operators should consider outsourcing some departments.

Donkin added: “Sometimes inaction is an action in itself. You hear all the time of operators that have two concepts and are wanting to grow more and more – but it takes time. You have to give yourself time to think and then make sure you think some more.

“Consider your reliance on other people and their resource. You have to be sure they can deal with immediate growth and changeover. To futureproof our own growth strategy, we have brought services including our accounts, stocktaking and marketing in-house.

“Without sounding arrogant, you’re not as good as you think you are. It’s all too easy to make an assumption that because you can do one site really well, it’s easier to do more. ­The truth couldn’t be further from this.

“Speak to as many people who have made the transition historically and make your own opinion. Realise who is there for fees and who is there to help you.

“Pick someone who you respect to get that information from, but even while taking reference from respected sources, it’s down to you to make a decision whether or not it is right for your business.

“It’s important, also, to manage your own expectations. Set yourself a clear time at which the new sites will achieve what you want them to be.

“­That will be a long way away from the day of opening or acquisition. Our target is the third full year of trading to really see what the site can do – but the way we fund, plan and recruit happens far in advance. You have to set a realistic target of when things need to be done by and work backwards from there.”

For the coming years, Donkin laid out how ­The Inn Collection Group is looking to grow and continue its success. Donkin added: “[­The future is] very busy. We have a plan in terms of growth which we intend to execute as the launchpad for our rapid expansion.

“We have plans in place to make sure our foundations are solid and strong. This has meant bringing a lot of costs up front so we can roll out our buy-and-build growth plans and rapidly expand but in a controlled manner where everyone is trained to expect that and to be fully prepared for what is coming without diluting our ethos and value as a business.”

Evolve and adapt

When it comes to the future of the on-trade, Donkin revealed his predictions, which were a mixed bag.

He added: “[­The future of the on-trade looks] creaky – for people who aren’t adept at adaption. When you’re setting up, you have to position yourself in a way that you can evolve and adapt to the marketplace.

“Having a specific, very niche offer and keeping on-trend can be dangerous. The traditional element is timeless, which is why we remain fundamentally true to our pubs with rooms.

“For the on-trade in general – there are a lot of factors which are still very unknown. ­The big old B-word (Brexit) comes with its own lot of unknowns while a lot of secondary reactions will come out of that from the off-trade, such as the supermarkets. ­They may react and cause severe damage.”

Related topics: MA500 Business Club

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