At The Morning Advertiser’s MA Leaders Club in Leeds today (Thursday 23 September), operators Arc Inspirations chief executive Martin Wolstencroft, Mojo managing director Martin Greenhow and North Bar/North Brewing Co director John Gyngell outlined the difference in consumer behaviour while they also highlighted the opportunities and challenges of operating in the city.
Mojo’s Greenhow said: “It’s a very compact city, Manchester is a much more spread out offering, we are very compact here.
“Particularly in the past 18 months, the hospitality sector in Leeds has banded together, we are a pretty cooperative bunch, we have to be fairly gregarious but we have all pulled together and supported each other. That works for the city as a while.”
North’s Gyngell echoed Greenhow’s comments and highlighted how Leeds stands out from neighbouring areas.
He said: “The local operators makes Leeds stand out, It’s not a huge city so if you come to operate here don’t expect Manchester or Birmingham.
“It really suffers from really poor transport, you can’t catch a tram. It’s been interesting probably for the past 20 years while we have bene operating, it’s been a tunnels and bridges scenario where you get weekend crowds from surrounding areas and that has shifted, that is a Covid dividend.”
The friendliness of the city is a great benefit it showcases alongside how close its proximity to the suburbs is, according to Arc’s Wolstencroft.
He added: “It’s a friendly city, two great unis that people travel far and wide to go to. Within 10 minutes one way you’ve got a great thriving city like Leeds then 10 mins the other way it is country side.
“[There are] so many fantastic individual local operators through to national brands. It’s a great city to set up your own bar, lots of encouragement and people support each other, we stick together. It’s been very strong through Covid how operators have tried to help through the restrictions. It’s also a very diverse and compact city.”
When reflecting on the past 18 months, Wolstencroft laid out how his business survived and dealt with the pandemic.
“The first priority was to get through Covid. That was a basic priority. We had two sites lined up, signed up in Birmingham and opening a Box in Deansgate, Manchester in November. But we couldn’t start building until we were through Covid.
“The good thing is we are opening in Birmingham and Manchester because not a lot of the big guys are opening there in the moment. There are opportunities there for people who can get financing.”
Opening a new site was a decision North undertook amid the coronavirus crisis, unveiling Springwell – a 22,000sq ft brewery. Gyngell also outlined how customer behaviour has changed, compared to pre-Covid trends.
“[Opening Springwell] was pretty ballsy. People don’t want average now. The local operators and really good nationals are seeing the benefit from that. If you are going out one night a week, you need to make it good. You wouldn’t put up with average anymore,” he said.
When it comes to looking at how Leeds as an area has bounced back from the pandemic, Greenhow reported positive results.
He said: “The city is very vibrant, it’s picking itself back up. Like with most cities, it depends on where you are. We are very much in a leisure sector that has come back well. [We are] 60% up on turnover since reopening compared to 2019.
“Anyone thinking of coming to Leeds, it’s a great city, we will work with you. It’s blossoming.”
However, Arc’s Wolstencroft emphasised the importance of operators remaining adaptable and flexible.
“There’s always opportunity because markets evolve all the time and operators become lazy. You only survive as you keep evolving your offering,” he added.
“What is going to be the next big thing, that’s what everyone’s looking for. No one can find the next big thing and deliver on it consistently is going to be the challenge.”
Greenhow agreed with Wolstencroft and mentioned the key trends he has seen since reopening and what opportunities the pandemic opened up for his business.
He said: “If you don’t evolve, push the boundaries and innovate you are either going forward or going backwards.
“There are opportunities and we’ve seen, an uptake in cocktail sales and a lot of that has been driven by changes.
“Prior to Covid, we were 85% cashless, [since Covid] getting rid of cash has been a huge benefit for us.”