'You don't go to college to learn to run a business, you learn every single day'

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

MA Leaders: Operators opened up on current challenges, past plans and future opportunities
MA Leaders: Operators opened up on current challenges, past plans and future opportunities

Related tags Manchester Multi-site pub operators Property Adventure Bar Group

Multi-site operators at the Inn Collection Group, North Brewing and Adventure Bars discussed the current challenges and future plans in store for their businesses at the MA Leaders Club yesterday (10 May).

The event took place at music venue Band on the Wall in Manchester, with Inn Collection Group’s Sean Donkin, North Brewing’s John Gyngell and Nightcap’s Tom Kidd taking to the stage for the panel called ‘Growing Pains’.

Donkin said the opportunities presented by Covid may have been better than the downturns for the Inn Collection Group, with Kings Park Capital recently purchasing the pubco back from Alchemy Partners.

He said landmark sites became available during Covid that probably wouldn’t have been available beforehand as operators ran out of “energy, cash, desire and will”.

When running a pubco, it is important to understand the areas you are looking to acquire sites in, and also to understand your market, Donkin continued to say. Out of the company’s 32 sites, 24 have been acquired in the past year, with the group now including 11 Lake District venues in its portfolio.

Learning every day

He also advised to maintain discipline and only acquire sites you fully believe in. “You need to focus on what your model is about and how you’re going to deliver that,” he said.

For Gyngell on the other hand, who recently opened the Springwell brewery in Leeds, there was no strategy in running the business. “We are making this up as we go along,” he said. “You don’t go to college to learn how to run a business, you learn every single day.”

He believed the strategy was to grow. North Brewing was getting to the stage where Gyngell could appoint directors to help with strategy.

Tom Kidd also said strategy took a backseat when coming out of the pandemic. “We didn’t really have a growth strategy,” he said, “it was just [about] keeping the doors open.”

Post-Covid, Adventure Bars’ offering has becoming more complex, with Blame Gloria and Tonight Josephine taking the forefront as the company’s main brands. 25% of the business’ turnover now comes from events like small-scale cabarets post-Covid. “Rolling out fast but trying to keep the wheels on is the struggle,” added Kidd.

Future difficulties

Adventure Bars now has much better visibility than it did before the pandemic, according to Kidd, who went as far as to say it was almost about deciding what you don’t do as much as deciding what you do.

Despite this, he believed the sector would face the difficulty of the marginal cost of staff rising, especially when you take away the huge influx of foreign workers.

Furthermore, Gyngell believed there would be problems in store if banks turned against the sector. According to the chief executive, it was “really difficult” to get venues financed. He said it had been a real battle to attract financial backing recently and would continue to be for the next few years.

Despite this, Gyngell was hopeful North Brewing’s future included expansion into Birmingham and London.

Donkin’s sights were set on a long-term strategy of 10 to 20 years for the pubco, which included plans to move towards Newcastle. Yet, he said he would also be focusing on taking care of entry-level and minimum wage employers, as their lives could get “pretty difficult” for the next year or so.

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