A Good News Story

October 12th, 2011


Kimberley, Glasgow
Iain McLaren is enthusiastic about his lessee business and it’s easy to see why. His outlet, The Kimberley, an S&NPC lease, is up 20% year on year. But it was far from plain sailing from the outset. He says, “My wife and I had taken a long time to find the pub we wanted, some six years overall, and despite the fact the pub wasn’t trading particularly well, it was the one we’d set our hearts on. We were told no at first because the current lessee wasn’t for moving. A long 18 months of uncertainty followed before we were eventually told that there was a chance of obtaining the lease, and we struck the jackpot.” The couple set about renovating the premises, bankrolled by themselves, and set the business up with a community focus. Iain explains, “Since we took it on in October 2010, we have led with a strong community focus, for example, tea dances for the elderly. This is no money spinner, but it has a real feel good factor to it and brings people together. We are also big on training, with all staff holding personal licences and cellar management qualifications, and two staff have just embarked on modern apprenticeships in Food and Beverage.” So what is the secret of such speedy success? “I put it down to my pub management background/drinks sales background,” he says. “I’m highly brand aware and have experienced how vitally important customer service and hospitality are in shaping a business.”

The Copper Top, Falkirk
Punch Taverns has just completed a £250k refurbishment on the Copper Top in Falkirk, which is leased jointly by husband and wife combo Gary and Wendy Horne. The couple have had the lease for the last two-and-a-half years, but they are by no means novices. Says Gary, “The lessee business can be challenging and it certainly pays to have some experience in the hospitality industry before taking the plunge. Thirty years ago I managed my grandfather’s 60-bedroom hotel in southern Ireland, and I came back to Scotland in 1999 to open a small guest house in Grangemouth, which happened to be right opposite Punch pub, The Mahratta. It just seemed to be calling us, and so we took on that lease back in 2000. We took the turnover from negligible to £10k per week.” The Horne’s then took a break from the industry in favour of the building trade until the big downturn of 2008. It was at this juncture that the lease on The Copper Pot became available. Says Gary, “I’m a bit cagey about my turnover, but what I will tell you is that since we acquired the lease we have grown the business from 600 covers per week to 18,000.” And their recipe for success? “It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but customer service is paramount, as is hands-on staff training, which with our experience in the industry is all done in house now, as we have the luxury of knowing what works and what doesn’t on our premises.”

Cathedral House, Glasgow
Jamie Howell and business partner James Durward have jointly leased Cathedral House in Glasgow from Trust Inns since October 2009. Before taking on the lease, both men worked their way up from bar staff to management positions – Jamie primarily for Allied Domecq and Carlsberg, and James for Eagle Taverns. Says Jamie, “The lessee route is a terrific point of entry into the hospitality/catering industry, and a rewarding career move for anyone who’s hard working and people-focused. Cathedral House is a hotel, bar and restaurant, and we have developed the business with an eye on the tourist/student market given its proximity to Strathclyde and Caledonian universities, and of course the cathedral. He continues, “Marketing initiatives and branding considerations are encouraged by Trust Inns. These are always immensely supportive, and extends to the smaller things like Christmas menus.” Jamie did in fact leave the trade for a change of scene and took a job at Barclays bank in Cardiff, but he missed the buzz of the industry, and it was the opportunity to branch out with a joint lease that tempted him back to Scotland. “When I saw the opportunity to take the reins at Cathedral House, I knew I had to get back to Scotland and really get my teeth into my own business,” he says.

Davidson’s Bar, Glasgow
Husband and wife team Arthur and Marion Wallace had little previous experience in the trade before taking on the Trust Inns’ lease at Davidson’s Bar in Glasgow. “I pulled my first pint at 50,” says Marion. “I went from working in a bank for 36 years to running a pub, so you could say that I went from a pen pusher to a pint puller.” Husband Arthur worked for a windscreen repair company, but he had worked part time at Davidson’s for a few years before going for the lease, and this is how he came to hear about its availability in 2005. Marion joined him full time a year later. She says, “I didn’t want to jump in straight away because it was at the time of the smoking ban, so we thought that were taking enough of a risk, and weren’t really sure how it would affect the business.”
It turns out that any fears they had were unfounded, as the pub has gone from strength to strength. “I suppose it’s down to your personality,” says Marion. “We are a wee old man’s pub with no entertainment or much in the way of events, although we do have three darts teams and a great atmosphere, so it’s pretty much up to us to encourage the repeat business.” And what advice would Marion give any prospective lessees? “I went from ten weeks holiday a year to two, if I’m lucky, so it’s hard work, but worth it when you can put your own stamp on what is effectively your own business.”

Old Aberlady, East Lothian
Kevin took the Old Aberlady in East Lothian from a turnover of £2,000 per week to £10,000 per week in less than a year. But this is a lessee with a lot of experience under his belt. He began his career back in 1999 with S&N. but the Aberlady is the second Punch Taverns’ managed pub he has leased, the first being the Longniddry Inn, Longniddry. He says, “The Tyneside Tavern in Haddington was the first pub I leased, I then got the travel bug and managed a bar in Malta, but the trade was too seasonal, so I returned to the UK and eventually took on the lease at the Longniddry, growing it to 2000 covers per week in three years.” Kevin has also been keen to embrace the internet and has just signed a deal with an online partner to offer room rates and meal deals, selling 500 deals in just 24 hours. That’s not to say he lacks the personal touch, as Kevin believes every successful community pub needs to reflect its customers’ needs. He says, “A sense of community is essential to a business like this, as is staying one step ahead of the trends. But most important of all is perseverance. The Aberlady was closed a week before I came in so business has just about flat lined, but you can’t just expect to claw back the footfall overnight. You have to put your heart and soul into it, otherwise you’ll fall flat on your face.”

Old Swan Inn, Paisley
Jacqui took over the reins at the Swan Inn two years ago, although she had worked there for a total of 12 years with her mum, the previous leaseholder for Trust Inns. “I have taken the turnover to £400k a year, which is a good £100k up on when my mum was running the place. But to be fair, my mum started making some sweeping changes and laid the foundations for the changes about nine years ago, when she decided to weed out certain clientele.
“We decided to stop serving certain customers in order to clean up the pub’s reputation and, even though business took a bit of a dip immediately afterwards, we stuck to our guns and eventually clawed the business back.” Indeed, consistency has been part of the recipe of success ever since for Jacqui. She says, “I wanted to do away with karaoke and all its associations, and replace it with live band and unplugged nights. These expanded the pub’s business as the bands followers will travel to support their band, and this is in turn great for my business.” So what would Jacqui say is the secret to her continues success as a lessee? She says, “It’s the little things that count, like freebies in the ladies toilet and kids parties at Halloween and Christmas that cost me a fortune, but I want to give something back. I also run a very tight and strict ship, and even though a lot of my family work in the pub, everyone pulls their weight and knows what is expected of them.
“I’m also a responsible licensee. I began the Challenge 25 scheme at the start of the summer, when most licensees are only just getting round to it.”

The Gartcraig Inn, Glasgow
Willie Ramsey never supped in the Gartcraig, despite living five minutes from the pub in Glasgow’s Dennistoun area, let alone poured a pint, before taking on the lease at the pub. Three months later, he has taken to the business like the proverbial duck to water. “I left my comfortable job in the motor industry after 35 years because I was desperate for a change of scene,” he says. “Some people thought I was mad to go into an industry in which I had zero experience, but so far so good. Trust Inns were very supportive from the outset and presented me with several lease options, and eventually steered me in the right direction towards The Gartcraig.” He continues, “It’s been a busy few months and I couldn’t have hoped for a better start, but I know that the next few months will be more challenging once the winter months set it. But I’m ready for the challenge ahead. I’ve already put together a pool team, arranged an open mic night, and a monthly Sunday cabaret.” So, three months in, does Willie have any regrets? “None whatsoever,” he says. “Trust Inns has backed me every inch of the way and as far as this premises goes I think that they needed me as much as I needed them, so we have married very well together.”

Gellions, Inverness
Rory Munro worked offshore until three years ago. Now he runs what is considered to be the oldest pub in Inverness, Gellions, with an annual turnover of £750k. “The pub dates back to 1841,” he says. “I have the documentation to authenticate this, and this has underpinned a lot of our marketing. We are right at the heart of the tourist drag, so it seemed like the natural thing to do.” But things weren’t always plain sailing for local man Rory. He says, “It was a bit touch and go at first as the pub was definitely in the doldrums, mainly down to neglect. All I have done, really, is use common sense to revive its fortunes by giving the tourists what they want. Live music, mainly of the traditional Scottish kind, and a great friendly welcome have been my recipe for success.
“I had never worked in the licensed trade before taking on this Punch lease, and it’s been challenging at times, but rewarding to see a once beleaguered business thrive and prosper.”

The Cherry Tree, Wishaw
Pamela runs two Punch pubs, The Craigfoot in Milton of Campsie and The Cherry Tree in Wishaw – and she’s on the hunt for lease number three. Pamela started running The Craigfoot two years ago with no trade experience – although her husband has run The Drum in Glasgow’s Shettleston for some 20 years – and she liked it so much that she decided to take the plunge with lease number two last year. She says, “I love a challenge and the Cherry Tree was just that. I took over the reins last December and I’ve taken the turnover from £3k a week to more than double that figure.” Pamela gave the place a bit of an overhaul and put in place her blueprint. “All I did was give the place a lick of paint, re-varnished the floor, and put entertainment on, like dinner dances and live music, plus the odd food offer,” she says. Coming from a call centre management background, Pamela knows the value of financial incentives in staffing. She says, “I have two great managers in place and they have targets to meet, and I give them financial incentives, which I don’t believe many people do in the trade.”

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