Tell us a little about your career in the industry and where it has taken you?
I stumbled into the hospitality sector 20 years ago when I took a break from banking and it has been a fascinating journey ever since. Starting in the on trade “club channel” responsible for working men’s clubs, cutting my negotiation skills at Sunday morning committee meetings in smoke filled rooms over tables full of pints of beer and plates of cheese! I moved to the multiple on trade which included some international travel, mainly in Europe but also the USA. Next was the off trade which opened up a whole new world, managing SKUs and competing for facings and promotional features. Next was brand marketing, which meant jumping to the other side of the debate as to who really generates sales, the sales or the marketing team; we all know the answer to that one right!? I was lured back to the on trade by one of my former customers with the chance to run pubs, both leased/tenanted and then managed. In the last 10 years I have sat in several seats around the board table, covering operations, sales, marketing & commercial – I’m still trying to find a role I’m any good at!
How has the channel evolved in that time?
The hospitality sector has come such a long way. The Beer Orders was a fundamental factor, being the catalyst for mergers and acquisitions across the brewing industry and the creation of PubCos. The smoking ban drove further change and evolution and then more recently so has the Pubs Code. All of these things were well intentioned and aimed at improving the pub experience for customers and in the case of the Pubs Code, licensees too. Today we have so much choice on where to spend our leisure money and with so many businesses competing to offer the best experience, it’s a good time to be a consumer. Thankfully whilst customer expectations have rightly risen, a visit to a good pub is still one of life’s great pleasures. With constantly rising operating costs, one of our challenges is to make sure a trip to the local remains an affordable treat and for that we really need our government to lower the burden which pubs carry, including excessive duty and business rates.
What has been your career highlight?
That’s a tough question! It’s easy to jump to specific deals, projects and initiatives however, amongst the fist pumping along the way it’s the camaraderie and relationships I have developed with the people around me during those experiences that will stay with me for life. You build incredible bonds and trust with colleagues when you come through challenging times together. I know the people I can call on whatever time of day or night.
You’ve been on both sides - from a supplier at Molson Coors to operator at Punch and now Admiral Taverns. From your experience, what makes a great supplier/operator partnership?
This sounds like a cliché but it’s true, it has to be win:win. Any trading relationship where one party does not feel the benefit is ultimately not sustainable. People who started out as my customers or suppliers are now good friends, which doesn’t mean our deals are not commercially sound, just that we have established mutual respect for one another and found ways of collaborating for the benefit of all parties.
Do you have a favourite venue to visit, in the Admiral portfolio and why?
That’s an easy one – it’s my local, the Black & Grey in Morpeth – a quirky design, comfortable with a great range of beers and super staff. Anna the licensee has created a pub with great atmosphere, and there are always a good few customers in, even at the quiet times. It’s a perfect example of a pub which has kept its heritage and moved with the times. I can promise you, it serves the best G&T’s in town if you are so inclined!