Last year kicked off with the MA500 crowd hitting the capital for a sunny February day of insightful content and a networking study tour.
Ei Managed Investments operations director Nathan Wall told delegates on 13 February at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea, west London, that it was looking for pubs outside London to expand its operations as seven of its 11 managed expert joint ventures were in the capital.
He added: “Where do we want new sites? Typically outside London, preferably. I have seven businesses that we are investing in within London. We typically invest up to £5m in one of these businesses, thereby growing them.”
At the same event, drugs specialist and former detective sergeant Ian Broughton from the Metropolitan Police’s Central Drugs team gave an insight into the scale of the issue and how operators can empower their teams to mitigate and tackle the problem.
“Drugs in licensed venues is a serious and ongoing problem that is happening up and down the country,” Broughton claimed. “They bring with them enormous risks, including antisocial behaviour, possession, supplying and, in some cases, drug-related deaths.
“All these threats will lead to unwanted attention for your business and, ultimately, will put off clientele and you will lose your licence.”
Experienced pub operator Charlie McVeigh said losing sight of customers was the reason businesses are suffering.
“The challenges businesses are facing are because, in my opinion, they have lost sight of the customer and, essentially, their branding,” he said.
“I believe, very passionately indeed, that a good, well-run business, that looks after its staff and customers, will exceed expectations and continue to thrive in pubs and casual dining. “It seems hospitality has lost sight of it. I’ve looked at the numbers – they’re not great and, ultimately, sales are flat.”
McVeigh concluded by sharing how to survive during turbulent times, especially when independent operators were finding it harder to compete against bigger commercial chains.
The gift of employees
Moving on to Manchester in May, delegates at the Principal Hotel heard from multiple operator Damon Horrill, founder of Cornerstone Inns.
He outlined how allowing employees to buy into and own the pub they work in can help struggling or closing sites.
Horrill said many of the issues, familiar to a number of struggling and failing operators, were due to a lack of investment and innovation within pubs.
However, the co-operative evangelist believes his idea of a pub business with principles, where employees are in control of the business, can help to reignite certain parts of the trade.
He added: “You try to find a different way [to stop closures], but the problem single tenants find is the difficulty of making money and a lack of investment, causing them to close, which happened to six of the pubs in the town.
“Our dialogue is all about community ownership and the belief that pub assets would be better o in a community- owned system and locked-in trusts and not private or corporate hands.”
Meanwhile, after selling CPL Training , founder Dan Davies launched a new venture called Rockpoint Leisure, which was founded to regenerate coastal towns. Davies, who grew up in the hospitality trade, spent much of his time abroad or working in the industry, rather than experiencing his local environment.
However, once he spent some time back home in New Brighton, formerly known as Rockpoint, an area of Merseyside he grew up around, he saw it needed time and attention to bring it back to life.
The project had seen Davies buy up swathes of land that he intends to turn into bustling hives of activity, filled with shops, other outlets as well as pubs, bars and restaurants, which he is calling the Victoria Quarter.
Operators also heard top tips on how to put on a rip-roaring comedy night from funny man Kevin Dewsbury, who set up his comedian booking service and production company Kev’s Comedy Club two years ago after gaining experience in the trade in London.
He said: “I was approached to run a comedy gig in a pub in Manchester after I set up a regular one in my hometown of Northwich, and it’s booming now every month.”
Dewsbury said he specialises in intimate comedy club set-ups, where acts perform in a smaller room – like a pub or a bar.
Are you in the club?
The MA500 business club is open to multi-site operators and runs three nationwide events a year that include business-focused presentations from top experts and owner-operators. Each event is followed by an evening’s networking study tour of exciting venues in the area.
To register your interest in attending the next MA500 meeting in London on Thursday 13 February, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The last event of 2019 was in Bath and a plethora of hospitality professionals took to the stage to share their expertise with the crowd.
Alex Godfrey, general manager of Top 50 Cocktail Bar the Milk Thistle, in Bristol, emphasised the importance of customer service.
He said: “Everyone returns for great service and atmosphere but the drink is the cherry on top. If the bartender is an a**e, customers won’t go back.
“They will always remember the person but they won’t always remember the drink they had.”
Fellow drinks expert Andy Wingate, category development controller at Heineken UK said pubs need to go all-in on low and no-alcohol drinks, whether sales currently stack up or not because they may risk missing out on the rising demand for the category.
He added: “Health is leading what consumers are looking for right through the week. They want healthier food and they want low-and-no options in drinks too,” said Wingate.
“There’s huge potential in the low-and-no market and we’re seeing ambition and appetite behind this from operators and producers alike.
Operators are driving the uptake of this because consumers want to moderate and focus on their health when going out.”
Looking ahead to 2020, the first MA500 meeting is set to take place in London on Thursday 13 February and the stellar line-up will be announced in due course.