Industry leaders share their biggest regrets and advice for operators

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

Regrets and advice: pub bosses share words of wisdom at MA Leaders in Cardiff (Pictured left to right: MA news editor Nikkie Thatcher, Alastair Scott, Kris Gumbrell and Adrian Emmett)
Regrets and advice: pub bosses share words of wisdom at MA Leaders in Cardiff (Pictured left to right: MA news editor Nikkie Thatcher, Alastair Scott, Kris Gumbrell and Adrian Emmett)

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Leading operators from across the pub industry have shared their biggest regrets and lessons learned from their time in the sector.

Speaking at the MA Leaders conference​ at Sophia's Garden cricket ground in Cardiff ​on Thursday 16 May, Brewhouse & Kitchen (B&K) boss Kris Gumbrell, owner of the Lion at Treorchy in southwest Wales Adrian Emmett and Malvern Inns head Alastair Scott shared their words of wisdom with delegates.

For Gumbrell, who has three-decades experience in the sector, one of the most important things for operators was to trust your gut but also “be big enough to learn from your mistakes” as this was better for business in the long-term.

The B&K boss ​explained this was something he learnt when the firm started taking on ex-JDW sites around 10-years ago, adding he “underestimated” how strong the pub giants offering was and how difficult it would be to introduce a new concept and team at an established site.

Having procured six pubs from JDW, the first of which was in Portsmouth, the award-winning London-based business, which operates 22 brewpubs across the country, now has three left, an experiences Gumbrell described as “humbling”.

Be brave

He said: “We couldn’t make it work, not because of the team or the concept, we got overconfident and have learnt massively form that to take out time [to let existing reputations fade].”

Though “getting the right people” and “learning to listen” has been key to B&K’s success, with the creation of a general manager board one of the “best things” the firm has done, Gumbrell added.

He explained establishing the board allowed on-the-ground needs and thoughts to “influence policy and strategy” and reduced the rate of staff turnover.

Meanwhile Scott, who worked at Mitchells & Butlers for 20-years before starting Malvern Inns, urged publicans to “be brave” and not “live your business life regretting something you didn’t do”.

Though spending extra time on the recruitment process was also important to the Malvern Inns founder as well as having a clear focus on business structure.

Emmett, who has previously been awarded the Community Hero accolade at the Great British Pub Awards, told attendees a pub is all about “what it can do for the community”.

Business decisions 

Though the operator added he has had to learn to “say no” to certain things and make sure decisions for the pub are being made from a business point of view.

“My pub is my baby, sometimes you need to look at it as a business and make business decisions, for example, maybe I should have pulled live music three of four months earlier [than I did as it wasn’t what customers wanted] and saved money to put into something else”, he said.

Emmett also detailed one of the pub’s most recent successes has been with TikTok and social media, which he said has become “more lucrative than the pub itself”, adding “procrastinating” and not starting the channel earlier was one of his only regrets.

He continued: “I wish I had started it during lockdown, we’ve built up to 40k followers now and more than a million views.

“Where food and drink are a revenue, this is another revenue in the business now [to make money and bring people in].”

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