Star Pubs & Bars is the pub arm of Heineken UK, which operates 2,400 pubs across the UK, and its BDMs are a vital conduit between what the pubco wants to achieve and what a licensee is looking to get out of running their site successfully.
“The BMD role is really pivotal,” explains Tim Galligan who is one of two operations directors for Star Pubs & Bars. “They’re almost like a central midfielder in a football match, they’ve got lots of internal stakeholders such as the maintenance surveyor, the estate’s manager, the property manager, the credit controller, but they’re the BDM in the middle and have to use all those people to try to ensure the interface with the licensee is as professional and smooth as it can be.
“They are who our licensees see and speak to most regularly and therefore there are the most important representative.”
Danni Fraylich, who is a BDM for Star, covering some 33 pubs in the Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and south Lincolnshire area, adds: “We are the face of Star Pubs & Bars. Our role is there to support and guide our licensees to enable them to be the most successful that they can be. And what’s great there is that we very much have an aligned ambition. We want their business to grow and they want their business to grow.
“We are there to take a very holistic, almost consultancy-like, approach to how we look at things. That might be around retailing standards, the commercial side of things, looking at their brand range and pricing, and having a good understanding of the local market.
“We’ll also be the first port of call, in terms of maintenance issues or with stock or deliveries so we’re the internal link between the property team, the compliance team and the estates team.”
The role of BDM is incredibly broad and that’s what I love about it.”
Fraylich is relatively new to the pub industry but her background in food and beverage businesses meant she would be able to come in at Star and impress.
She moved up through Costa Coffee in a marketing capacity working in Europe, the Middle East and India. From there, she moved to KFC as a development manager, which meant she was managing the fried chicken business’s development pipeline in terms of new restaurants, development agreements across 20-odd countries and signing off new locations. “It was absolutely fascinating,” she recalls.
Fraylich also needed to identify the right people to work with. And that was around ascertaining whether they were not only well capitalised and had the capability but whether they’d be a good cultural fit. Moving on to Pizza Hut as an area coach in east London led her to tick the operations box where she had her first slice of owning and managing a team, their KPIs, their personal development and having full P&L ownership.
“I have a real breadth of background and that was what made the BDM role really appealing. It’s incredibly broad and that’s what I love about it. It absolutely covers everything and, in terms of career development, it’s a fantastic stepping stone to move off into other areas of the business,” she says.
Covering all areas
Galligan (pictured below) explains he and Mick Howard are the two operations directors working under managing director Lawson Mountstevens.
Under this pair are nine regional operations directors who have eight BDMs working for each of them – therefore there are about 75 BDMs pounding the geography of the UK and most live ‘on-patch’ and look after about 35 pubs apiece.
The former on-trade sales director for Heineken says when Heineken decided to buy circa 1,500 pubs from Punch, back in 2018, he was tasked with helping with the integration and started by putting the new business together with a new team.
“That was a big move,” he says. “Star had 70 people and we’re now at 280. That was my first venture into the typical, leased and tenanted (L&T) model back in 2018-19.”
The BDMs essentially ‘own’ the postcode. “They are the eyes and ears of Star, and are the local experts. They know the movers and shakers and are able to see and hear what’s going on and are well connected with their existing pubs and can see which other new licensees potentially might be coming into the market and can then recruit accordingly,” Galligan reveals.
“This is really important, particularly when you’re speaking to licensees who want to know what’s the gossip is, who’s doing what and what the competition doing, etc.
“The other bit that’s really interesting, and it’s evolved over the past few years, is that our BDMs manage and service our licensees who are L&T but they also have responsibility for overseeing what we call our managed-operator model pubs as well – the Just Add Talent (JAT) estate. We’ve got 150 sites that you might call ‘franchised’ where the pubs are serviced and managed by a self-employed operator but we’re there to support them with all the back office, tools etc. to help them deliver a great customer experience and good revenues and returns.
“So BDMs will perhaps have one or two of those on their patch. And what that allows them to do is be responsible for the retailing, the marketing and the activation in those pubs in terms of pulling it all together. What they need to do there is make sure they help execute that brilliantly with the franchisee or the managed operator.”
While most other businesses tend to split the role either into a managed team or an L&T team, Star combines both into one BDM role, which allows BDMs to have better conversations with L&T operators because they’ve got to put a retail operator lens on when they speak to their franchisees or managed pubs, Galligan says.
“It really is a fantastic job and I mean that sincerely,” he continues. “It’s got broader over the years. Before it was more property focused but now it’s pretty multi-layered and multifunctional. BDMs are the key link between us and the licensee.”
How can a licensee access their BDM? “Most of them pick up the phone,” Fraylich says. “Very few operators will sit down chained to a laptop, checking emails. We will always make sure any key conversations are recorded by email via our business review sheets, so it’s all compliant.
“It’s either a direct phone call or WhatsApp message because they want quick and easy access. But one thing I’ve been really conscious of since I joined the business is that I’m quite clear on the hours I’m available so I didn’t fall into the habit of there being an expectation – emergencies excepted of course – that I’d be available all the time. It’s about having that healthy balance.”
There’s an awful lot of on-the-job training, lots of shadowing with the BDM that covers your area until you’re ready to be signed off.”
The BDM has an eight-week call cycle to meet all licensees in their area to talk about things such as what the key upcoming events might be and the plans for getting the gardens ready for spring and summer. Each meeting lasts, on average, a couple of hours but preparation is important to her.
“You have to be really reorganised,” she says. “Especially if you’ve got a big geography like I have. You have to be adaptable as well if issues come up.
“You must make sure the agenda is relevant to what they want to talk about. You might have one site where there’s a competitor that’s reopening or there’s been a change of management, and that’s having an impact on their site. For somebody else, they might be struggling financially so we’ll have a look at things to see when there’s opportunities to support them.”
Becoming a BDM doesn’t happen by magic. There’s lots of training and, being one of the big six pubcos and therefore under rule of the pubs code, legal compliance and knowledge is important.
Fraylich says: “There’s a really thorough induction plan for BDMs. There’s an awful lot of on-the-job training, lots of shadowing with the BDM that covers your area until you’re ready to be signed off. We have to be trained on the pubs code – that is front and foremost. We have training around retailing standards. We have access to an internal system called iLearn where there’s a very wide-reaching range of trainings.
“When I joined it was in the thick of Covid so it was about taking the time to really get to know the tenants – that is absolutely key. So the hard skills are absolutely mandatory and I couldn’t do my job without having those but the soft skills really can’t be overlooked.”
Galligan adds Star offers a very thorough induction programme that is almost 12 months long but it’s phased in such a way that the first three months are very much about understanding the complexities of working within a regulated business that is governed by the pubs code.
“We have to invest quite a bit of time to make sure when people go out and start speaking to licensees, they are informed, knowledgeable and don’t drop the ball because that could be quite painful, both for the licensee and for us as a regulated business,” he explains.
“We spend time on making sure some of the softer skills are worked on, whether it be around retail selling, commercial acumen, etc. The key takeout is you can’t put a BDM out there after two or three weeks because they would sink, it would not be fair on licensees and we would be putting them in a very difficult situation when it comes to some of the regulations that sit around our business.”
A more settled BDM will get training on basic retailing five times per year. So every two months, the BDMs are taken off the road for a two-hour retailing masterclass. “It sounds basic but we’ve got mixed ability in the BDMs so we’re trying to get everyone to a decent base point.”
There’s also CPL platforms to help those that need more information on certain areas and, as mentioned, iLearn provides a huge amount of in-house material.
“The job of a BDM has changed over time and if you’re serious about trying to help a licensee grow their business, you can’t walk through the doors without being able to at least have an ability to talk well, discuss matters and come up with some really good ideas and suggestions, he adds.
Wind of change
“All pub companies are upping their game. You’ve seen what a lot of the pubcos did during Covid to support their licensees. There’s been a wind of change in terms of senior leadership as well. You can tell culturally, the likes of Punch and Greene King particularly have changed a bit over the past two, three, four years for the better – and I respect that.”
Galligan explains the experience licensees are now getting in their interactions with BDMs across all pubcos has improved significantly but at Star, BDMs are given “a lot of freedom”. He says: “They’re very empowered to make decisions. Having the ability to add the JAT model alongside their L&T pubs makes the job really interesting, gives them a different outlook and allows them to test things with their franchisees and managed pubs that they can then bring back to their L&T operators.
“We make sure the BDMs have got budgets that are suitable to support a licensee. We are backed by Heineken UK so we’ve got a huge range of brand support and having that behind you is hugely powerful.”
Star has signalled it wants to spend another £45m worth of capex this year and Galligan doubts any other pubco will be spending that kind of money on their pubs. This means if you are a Star BDM, you can have a chunk of that cash if you come up with the right scheme, with the right operator and the right concept and ideas.
They’ve never run a pub or run any business but they were so passionate and the customers absolutely loved them.”
The advantages of being a licensee with Star include that kind of capex expenditure and the brand support and insights a business like Heineken has.
“We will provide licensees with a lot of insight into what’s going on, both in the macro world and locally, and particularly around consumer insight and trends that they may want to take advantage of. That’s maybe a little bit different from other pub companies,” Galligan explains.
“[Our BDMs] spend as much time talking about how we can help them with their costs as we do on their on their top line in terms of revenue generation. We’ve shown a lot more interest in the total P&L – even more than we did so previously.
“They’re able to take advantage of buying clubs where they can pick up big discounts on things that are important to them to run their business and that’s really grown exponentially during the past couple of years because of the financial squeeze a lot of our pubs have been under.”
Finding people to run its pubs is a key aspect of Fraylich’s role and Star has “a really thorough recruitment process”.
She says: “For me, it’s about identifying somebody that has got the right mindset and the right will, and somebody I can see myself working with or see another BDM working with because our priority is about protecting the longevity of the pub – the last thing you want to do is put in somebody that may only be there for six to 12 months because if you end up with a revolving door of tenants that’s not great for the pub and, ultimately, not good for the consumer and the community.”
With the community wanting consistency, it is important to identifying potential licensees who have a real passion for the job – regardless of whether they’ve done it before.
“A real success story of mine is one of my pubs in Great Yarmouth where the two women who are now licensees for it used to be front-of-house bar staff,” recalls Fraylich (who is pictured above with one of her licensees, Mark Killick).
“When the operator decided he didn’t want to renew his agreement, he said maybe have a chat with Helen and Sharon. I did and they were really hesitant because they’ve never had their own business. They’ve never run a pub or run any business but they were so passionate and the customers absolutely loved them.
“They had some really great visions, brilliant ideas and we were able to get the training around them and they’ve been great and have been there for just over a year now.”
Getting through the next six to nine months is key to the future for Star’s licensees, says Fraylich. Although customers are still going out, they’re very discerning in where they spend their money.
Keeping an eye on upcoming events is something BDMs need to help licensees with so they see opportunities on which they can capitalise such as the King’s Coronation in May and anything going on in summer must be prepared for as well.
Fraylich adds: “I’ve still got a few closed pubs to recruit for and to get reopened, which is very much front of mind for me. And then I’ve got a few that are still on temporary agreements, which I’m actively working through to get on to a longer-term tenancy, so not temporary but something substantive like a minimum five years. That gives protection to the tenants and, from our perspective, we know that for at least the next five years, we’ve got a consistent operator.
“Personally, I need to continue to stay focused on achieving my KPIs and the real benefit of working somewhere like Star is that you have the opportunity to move into the wider Heineken business.”
Going back to Galligan’s footballing analogy of the BDMs playing the pivotal midfield role, it’s the licensees themselves who are the centre forwards.
He says: “The BDMs are probably crossing the ball and the licensees are knocking it into the back of the net and they are celebrating the goals together.
“If you sum it all up – and this is where it becomes a little bit more competitive – we want our pub in the village to be the best pub in the village. We are a business that’s got to make money and the only way we can make money is if our licensees are making money.
“We cannot succeed at Star unless our licensees succeed.”