First timers

May 14, 2019
Often mistakes are the ways in which people learn how to improve their businesses. Operators reveal the biggest lessons they have learnt and how they made their company better from these experiences
Mistakes can sometimes be inadvertently made but they are also often how operators improve how their businesses are run and can be turned into successes.
Whether that is finding out trading in a particular area isn’t right for the business or realising it is beneficial to invest more in better equipment, business owners can learn from these errors and aid others in not making the same oversights.
Liz Reece of Café Football, a stone’s throw from West Ham’s London Stadium in Stratford, east London, says: “After a number of years in the sports bar business, I have learned that it’s always best to be prepared for the unexpected.
“As a local to the West Ham stadium, it is the games that they lose that can create more problems than the games that are won. Lost games are not only bad for morale but revenue. Bad atmospheres lead to unhappy people who will squabble with anyone from a staff member to another guest and that way danger lies.
“Luckily, West Ham managed to stay up at the end of last year’s disappointing season. It’s strange the empathy I feel for the regulars though, being a Liverpool fan myself,
my heart goes out to them when things don’t go the way they hoped, and I don’t mean that in a patronising way, we all know, as football enthusiasts, how that feels.”
Changes in the coming year
Reece outlines how she dealt with this to change things for the coming year and this doesn’t necessarily mean completely change everything.
She continues: “Will we approach things differently this year? No, not really. It’s all about being ready. Enough staff, enough booze and enough food – that’s as hard as it gets really. You can’t beat the atmosphere of a good game whether it’s at the stadium or on the TV. It’s addictive. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else – even when Liverpool lose!”
From one licensee to a multiple operator, the award-winning New World Trading Company (NWTC) may be flying high, but the business is no stranger to making mistakes.
In fact, CEO Chris Hill outlines how his business chose to trade in an area that wasn’t quite right for it and advises other operators how not to make the same mistake.
He says: “We opened our second Trading House site in Glasgow at the end of 2015. The site was acquired based on instincts and passion rather than doing enough research.
“We opened it but didn’t trade for very long (it closed within 12 months). Despite the staff being superb, we were unable to trade it. We sold the lease and moved on and haven’t traded in Glasgow since.”
However, Hill outlines how the impact on staff from the Glasgow site actually benefited other venues across the business.
Understanding our demographic
He adds: “As a result, we employed a company to help us understand our demographic areas that we need to trade in and since then, we haven’t repeated the mistake.
“Thankfully, we were able to re-house lots of those staff members from Glasgow, who are now working all over the business in different cities.
“It was a good outcome in the end, but that lesson was not to convince ourselves that we can trade well in every city, in every type of building, with every single brand – there’s a science to it.”
When it comes to advice for operators who find themselves heading towards a similar predicament, Hill says to make sure background research is top of the list of things to do.
“When you’re in a business that wants to roll out quickly, it is very easy to get carried away and think everything is going to work every time, in every place,” he says.
“You need to ensure you do your homework and understand the research from your business, look to replicate that rather than trying to do something new and clever.”
Great British Pub of the Year
Another award-winning business is the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London, which not only took home the John Smith’s Great British Pub of the Year award in 2018, Best Wine Pub in the same year and also in 2016, but is also a staple feature on the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list.
Operator Heath Ball has had the pub, which is leased from Greene King, for the past 12 years.
Ball says: “It’s a mistake to not do enough on the back-of-house part of the business, such as looking at the figures hard enough.
“I had been so caught up in running the front-of-house and operations that I wasn’t spending enough time looking at numbers, taking the time to sit down and go through figures properly.
“Not spending enough time looking at what I was paying for, not enough time in the back office, too much time at the front, socialising, trying to make it work.
“The shock was when we started sitting down and looking at stuff, my accountant started making me aware of the figures and made me realise you need to look at every penny.”
Bogged down with firefighting
Running a business as a sole operator has its challenges as a general rule and having to deal with problems on your own can prove problematic, however, Ball outlines how he has tackled this.
He adds: “Because it is just me, my time just gets consumed on stuff. It only takes one staffing issue and then you get tied up for days.
“When I got the Red Lion 12 years ago, I had been working on businesses before where I had worked for people where they tell you what to do.
“Working for myself, I overspent at the beginning, I was short of cash and things were getting messy. A couple of years after this, I realised I was too busy firefighting problems, trying to get the business working and it was only when I started settling in and dealing with problems that I started to correct it. I advise everyone to look at the back-of-house area of the business.”
Echoing Hill’s comments on research, Ball highlights how important it is when investing in the business.
He says: “I have made the mistake of not doing enough research when buying equipment and ended up getting the wrong thing.
“The biggest mistake for me was early on, I was buying cheap stuff to get me through. That old adage of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is certainly true.
“I remember going through fryers every year. I was just buying stuff that I could afford and trying to get through with it, but it cost me so much more in the long term.
“The fryers would break down in the middle of a busy service, we couldn’t use it and then we were losing sales.”
Getting the best kit you can
Ball advises operators to lease equipment or build a strong relationship with a supplier to help get the best money can buy.
“Even if you don’t lease it, just buy good stuff, don’t buy cheap. Throwing away money on repairs when you are probably just better off buying a new piece of kit,” he adds.
“Once the equipment has reached its shelf life, you end up constantly getting it repaired and it soon adds up. I also advise that if you do buy new, get the best warranty you can to help you in the long run.”
While mistakes are often made, operators can learn from these to make their businesses even better and teach others how not to make the same errors.
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