What have operators learned trading through economic downturns?

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

Different world: operators must "hope for benign situation" but "plan" for problems according to industry leaders (Pictured: the panel at MA Leaders in Birmingham)
Different world: operators must "hope for benign situation" but "plan" for problems according to industry leaders (Pictured: the panel at MA Leaders in Birmingham)

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Businesses need to “hope for a benign situation” while “planning” for problems amid current economic headwinds, according to industry leaders.

Speaking at the MA Leaders Club event in Birmingham, West Midlands, on Thursday 2 March, operators from across the sector shared their experiences trading through fiscal downturns and the pandemic.

Oakman Inns ​chief executive officer Peter Borg-Neal explained the company felt “bullish” coming out of Covid, but that expanding during the pandemic had created “bigger headaches” for the business.

Additionally, with funding for hospitality businesses currently “very difficult” and “unfair”, according to the CEO, he added the company had a “pipeline” of sites left undeveloped due to financing.

Though operators in this position could view it as an “opportunity” for M&A​, he added.

Borg-Neal said: “People don’t want to lend to our sector.

New period 

“[Nobody] wants to be the first to blink and let go of their business, but it’s probably inevitable. We need to talk about these deals and not wait until we are forced to do them.

“You have to hope for a benign situation and plan for another year of these kind of problems.”

However, he remained “optimistic” for the future and that this was a “new period” for evolution.

“[Our] industry is very good at evolving and we will continue to do that.

“We need the world to go back to normal and calm down then we can get back to business as usual”, Borg-Neal added.

Though Steamin’ Billy Brewing director Billy Allingham claimed business would “never be what it was before” as the world was “very different” post-Covid.

Allingham explained the business had developed “experiential lead” initiatives, such as a farm park site, a small distillery and kitchen gardens in an effort to “differentiate” since the pandemic and amid a decline in consumer spending.

All about surviving 

Though he added while trade had been “good” across the majority of the firms’ sites, the business had “slimmed down” it’s opening hours as there was a “ceiling” to “putting costs up​” amid soaring energy ​prices, looming recession and increasing wage bills.

Allingham said: “People are coming out and they are spending, but what they are spending on is different, its more experiential.

“For the first time in 12 months, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Banwell House founder Toby Brett echoed this, stating operators needed to go “back to basics” and focus on the “journey of the customer”.

He said: “If we get through this, the ones who survive will be the strongest for it.

“At the end of the day we need to make a profit, we don’t want to rip people off but we are not a charity.

“It’s all about surviving and doing whatever you can to be here this time next year, then it’ll be business as usual.”

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