The Propel Multi Club events are a must attend for those in the pub and casual dining world. Offering a range of expert industry speakers covering everything from the economic outlook to practical case studies, these events throughout the year have to deliver solid content in order to justify a day out of the business for these key players in the industry. The programme is very much aimed at multiple operators looking to build and grow a successful business and as such they offer a great opportunity for brands to highlight their products and services and even get to sample their wares. With an exhibition area used for breaks and lunch there is ample time to get face to face with the kind of individuals that are very difficult to pin down any other way.
With an attendee list that reads like a who’s who of the pub and high street dining world the day kicked-off with a look at the current economic trends and how they may impact on the eating and drinking out market. Speaking with no notes (quite an achievement) Ian King of Sky News talked knowledgably about the past twelve months and what might be in store for the months ahead, in what he termed as currently a pretty ‘benign’ market, as the impact of the national living wage takes effect.
The day went on to cover the headline grabbing world of mergers and acquisitions, synonymous with the pub sector, with Peter Hansen from Sapient Corporate Finance looking at the structure of the market and the impact of the MRO (market rent only) option. He ran through and what models are available in the market, from free of tie leases like Duck and Rice, to joint ventures with pub co freehold and Managed Expert Programmes like Hippo, where everything apart from the labour is controlled by the pub co and the manager receives a percentage of income. With low food inflation, low interest rates and a recovering economy the pub sector is looking good for the moment despite uncertainty over the possible impact of the MRO and growing competition from casual dining and retail. However with rates in London soon to rise and the possibility of food and energy costs increasing we will have to see what happens. Although it is fair to say that with more flexible options available there are still opportunities in the sector, although those with less than five years on their leases face an uncertain future and would be well advised to look at what deals can be done with their pub co’s property director.
Keeping with the finance theme, accountancy firm haysmacintyre took to the stage to advise the audience on the best way to manage their tax liability. My main take out…I think I’m in the wrong job, as there looks like there is some serious money to be made in pubs! Then it was on to hear from Enterprise Inns about building an 800-strong managed pub estate and the investment and progress in the leased and tenanted part of the business. Paul Harbottle talked us through the profiling of the Enterprise Inn estate and threw in some top tips when opening a site, such as getting prominent PTA, WI or Parish Council individuals on-side to help ensure its a success. In his experience it takes twelve months for a pub to get up and running and you should never expect to change history, if a site has a drug or violence problem then the chances are it still will have when you take over. But most importantly he stressed getting the right people who were ‘up for the challenge’ and made the point that often a good landlord doesn’t make for a good pub manager.
Then it was time for delegates to catch-up and network over lunch and take a stroll around the sponsors’ stands and after a delicious meal from the team at The Lancaster London it was time for the afternoon session. Toby Smith of Novus Leisure showcased their makeover of the Balls Brothers concept along with their real time social media feedback loop employed in everyone’s favourite nightspot – Tiger Tiger. He was followed by the irrepressible Martin Wolstencroft of Arc Inspirations whose passion for his business came across from the off. With thirteen (and one in the pipeline) bars/restaurants, predominately in the North, he’s been building his operation for the last thirteen years and has a portfolio of nine brands, ranging from sophisticated cocktail bars in city centre locations like Manahatta to American inspired craft beer and ribs concept ‘The Pit’. By ensuring all his staff really care, sourcing locally and insisting on consistency across the estate, he has built up an extremely successful business with concepts to match any location. Run on home-grown talent, many of his senior team started out as part time bar or restaurant staff as students, but by offering a culture they love (not to mention the odd performance related ski trip or jaunt to Ibiza) Arc have managed to keep staff engaged and motivated to deliver the very best for their customers.
Event Sponsor Fishbowl then took to the stage in a double header to take us through the technology behind sophisticated menu engineering which can help maximise both profit margins and customer base. With impressive case studies from the US, some of the more techy elements may have met a few blank faces, but the message was clear – with the use of the right programmes you can ensure you have the best money making menu possible. Whereas once gutfeel was all there was, now technology can let light in on the magic of a successful menu.
Loungers was next up to share their learnings. With seventy one sites and another four planned before Christmas the chain, which started with three friends and a vision, is big business now with venture capital backing. Their all day dining concept and strategic decision to go for secondary high streets has worked well. They even have their own in-house build team which means they can streamline fitting-out a site in five to six weeks. They also have the Cosy Club brand which although smaller is doing well with seven to eight opening every year. With Loungers seeing 100% overtrading honeymoon period for new sites, that can last up to four months, they are certainly doing something right and Nick Collins MD plans to continue the journey for a long time to come.
Another operator who seems to have made a niche for themselves is Brewhouse & Kitchen. With an actual craft brewery on every site they offer not just a bar and restaurant but an experience. With brewing days and masterclasses hosted by their master brewers, not to mention gift ideas I might very well have to take a trip up to Islington (the nearest one to us in leafy Leatherhead).
The day ended with an insight into what makes a great leader with Anne Elliott, event sponsor, sharing the outputs of many a conversation with some of the most successful individual in the industry. The answer? Vision, listening, asking why?, engaging, surrounding yourself with the best, helping people achieve what they never thought possible, saying thank you, putting yourself in others shoes, being yourself and leading from alongside your team. Indeed, many felt they were still learning every day. A topic which was then taken up by the panel discussion with business leaders from Spirit, Ego Restaurants and Thorley Taverns to get their thoughts on the principles of high quality leadership – and on that inspiring note the day came to a close.
Well done to Paul Charity, Jo Charity, Sharon Dickinson and Adam Dickinson, the team behind this great day, not to mention the sponsors who make it all possible. To find out more about Propel or sign-up to their e-newsletter visit www.propelinfonews.com