Ollie Vaulkhard: 'It’s not the Government’s job to save you'

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Ollie Vaulkhard: 'When you hit bottom, the only way is up'
Ollie Vaulkhard: 'When you hit bottom, the only way is up'

Related tags Newcastle Multi-site pub operators Finance

The Vaulkhard Group is weathering financial challenges, but trade is strong and the director predicts great times ahead for hospitality.

The Newcastle-based operator has been running almost 30 years with Ollie Vaulkhard​ at the helm. It has 15 sites under its belt and a £4.5m expansion plan​ was revealed earlier this year.

Trade at the moment is “very good” said Vaulkhard, with customers coming through the door and spending money.

Across all sites, he said the company was probably looking at year-on-year growth, he predicted.

Despite this, the current economic environment is “very hard”. Utility costs, rising interest rates, inflation and wage costs are all presenting challenges.

He said: “I don’t think you’ll see many hospitality groups posting record profits in their annual accounts, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

'Focus internally'

But Vaulkhard believes this won’t last forever. He continued: “It is a matter of holding your nerve, doing a good job, and not saying ‘I can make more money if I sell a cheaper vodka or lie to the customer or cut corners.’

“Stay true to the business and customers will come through this with you.”

While many in the sector have called for the Government to reduce VAT​ in the Autumn Statement later this month, Vaulkhard thinks this is wishful thinking.

Instead, he directs energy towards the business, asking questions like: How do we work in the margins? How do we do something on a Tuesday night? How do we engage with our customers?

He added: “There’s a lot of money still being spent in hospitality. Focus internally, focus on your deal with your bank and credit card company, on your beer supplier, on your glass supplier, on your staff; what can you do for them?

“Focus on all of that. Don’t focus on the Government saving you, because it ain’t their job.”

Winners and losers

Vaulkhard feels “really confident” about the future of trade. He sees “really good times” ahead.

He said: “I know a lot of us are tired, because the last three years have been hard, but the thing people missed in Covid was interaction.”

Interaction is core to the Vaulkhard Group’s philosophy: “We put people in a warm environment where we share good times,” he added. “There will always be a call for that.”

While the economy is a challenge now, it won’t always be a challenge, according to Vaulkhard. “Of course, there’ll be casualties along the way, but there’ll be winners on the way,” he said.

He retains a “glass-half-full” mentality. He said: “I can’t say ‘we’re going to have a record Christmas’,​ or ‘it’ll happen next Easter’, but over the next five years, it’ll be good and great times will return for us.

“We’ve been in the eye of the storm, but after the storm comes calm, and after the darkest hour comes sunset. When you’ve hit the bottom, the only place to go is up.”

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