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Growth, Great British Pub Awards and Glass-washers – Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

Opening our third venue marked a significant departure from our established business model. Previously, we had operated two inns with letting rooms near Stonehenge, catering primarily to tourists and contractors. Our third venture, however, was distinctly different: a bustling pub with an exceptionally high barrelage, located within a residential estate and partnered with a different pub company.


The state of the building upon receiving the keys was disheartening, to say the least. The previous landlord had allowed it to fall into disrepair. I literally threw up when I discovered a bin-liner full of rancid meat left in the cellar to decompose. Nevertheless, the pub company proved to be very supportive investing £150k into the building and collaborating closely with us to refurbish the venue to a high standard, without forcing their own expensive suppliers on to us.


The transformation was remarkable, and the finished venue looked exceptionally appealing—or in our colloquial terms, ‘proper pukka’! To shift the focus towards dining, we introduced a carvery concept at the venue.


We met with the existing staff, a new experience for us since this venue was still operational, and TUPE regulations applied (luckily my HR experience came in handy). This initial meeting highlighted the need for significant improvements in staff engagement and customer service standards. Simple gestures, like how a cup of coffee was served—with teaspoons and sugar tubes pulled from jeans pockets, fluff and all —underscored the challenges ahead. In the end, only a couple of staff members chose to stay, including one individual who had been working there part-time for nearly two decades, outlasting many landlords.


The day we received the keys offered further insight into the challenges posed by the existing staff and the previous landlord's management style. Amid our business dealings, one team member made a dramatic entrance, performing multiple back-flips across the room before exiting. It was an unforgettable moment, and we had to ask ourselves had it really happened it was such a bizarre incident and a clear sign of the culture shift we needed to implement.


Our opening night quickly came around and we were uncertain regarding the local community's reception to the changes and new concept. Coinciding with my 50th birthday, I found myself solidly washing glasses by hand in hot soapy water after the glass-washer

malfunctioned following a single cycle. With over 1000 pints of beer sold that night alone; the task was immense. Fortunately, the local community largely embraced the pub, though some initially expressed discontent over the removal of the pool table—a decision we later reversed.


One aim in opening a third venue was to achieve economies of scale and enhance our bargaining power with suppliers, a goal that we successfully met.


From this venture, several lessons were learned:


  • Negotiating firmly with the pub company from the outset can yield significant benefits.

  • Investment in the physical structure of the building by the pub company can dramatically impact business success. Pushing hard for this to happen at the start of the process can pay massive dividends.

  • Adapting our business model to fit different venues was extremely feasible.

  • While local support is invaluable, it comes with its own set of challenges, as every decision is subject to intense scrutiny.

  • The importance of having reliable equipment cannot be overstated—ensure your glass-washer is fit for purpose!

Within the first six months, we tentatively entered this venue into the Great British Pub Awards and were delighted to win the Best Turnaround Pub category for the second time, this occasion in the Southeast. Another boozy celebration followed, and the positive publicity was immense.  We extended our celebrations with the local community at the venue, wanting to show our gratitude for their support, by hosting a lively Bon Jovi tribute night with free Prosecco and food – a gesture greatly appreciated, and a fantastic night was had by all.


Like this blog - why not read other installments at https://www.catalystcoaches.org/blog.


A photo of Liz, business owner, her son and Mick - all dressed up ready for the awards

 

 

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