Speaking after his now nine-strong pub company took on the Beacon Hotel in Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire – his fourth site with Star Pubs & Bars where a joint investment of £500,000 is imminent – Roseacre’s founder Michael Thomas tells The Morning Advertiser (MA) that the swathe of mergers, acquisitions and disposals of the past 18 months has created fertile ground for Roseacre to bloom. But only to a point.
“We never want to be massive but we want to probably double in size over the next few years,” he explains. “I try to never put a time limit on it because there are two factors which dictate how quickly we can expand.
“One is obviously finding the right sites; I look at probably three or four sites every week, most of which we say don't really quite fit for us.
“The second is making sure that we've got the right management team available to open up those pubs – there's no point having a great site if we haven't got a great management team to go in there because a weak management team can easily ruin a really good site.
“It's really important to us that the people who go in to run our pubs share our culture and values, and put the customer at the centre of everything we do. We're close enough to the customers to know what they like and don't like.”
Ultimately, the thorny issue of creative control convinced Thomas to set up Roseacre in 2014 after working in the pub and restaurant sector for 35 years in senior roles for big players such as Chef & Brewer, Premier Inn, Vintage Inns and Fayre & Square.
“I wanted to be in total control of what we did,” he tells MA, “what our offer was, how we treated our customers – because as I got more and more experienced, I got a bit frustrated with brands being too restricted. I just wanted to get out there and do my own thing.
“I'd be saying to my wife ‘see that pub there? I could turn that into a million-pound per year business’ – she listened to it for about 10 years and eventually said ‘either shut up about those things or go and do it yourself’.”
Thomas adds that smaller, regional operators like his, are able to claw back market share from big brands like the ones he used to work for by putting down roots on their own local patch.
“There are some advantages to having Harvester, or Miller & Carter or whatever over the door, but where we gain market share is that we operate in suburban areas,” he added.
“We pick suburbs because the housing is really mature, and people have got disposable income. There probably are better restaurants further away but we're the best balance, I think, between being a good place to go and being really convenient.”
What’s more, Thomas says that having a smaller, more streamlined business allows him to operate more nimbly within a competitive marketplace.
“We're really fleet of foot and can operate each business separately as there's no brand to follow,” he explains. “So if a particular product or particular range works better in one marketplace to somewhere else we can adapt to that, whereas if you're a brand it has to be the same in absolutely every site.
“That can sometimes be as much of a drawback as it is a strength. If we were a brand we'd either have to be a carvery or a steakhouse or value food – but because we're independent we can react to each individual trading slot and adapt our offer.”