If the answer’s a resounding “yes!”, you’re in good company – 60% of UK pubs are now managed by multi-site operators, while in recent years the restaurant sector has seen a rise in the number of chain operators coupled with a decrease in the average number of sites per chain, suggesting a vibrant market full of opportunity for those looking to expand.
Adding new sites can be a fantastic way to increase revenues and profits, as well as create a recognisable brand image that will contribute to a business that is healthy and sustainable in the long term.
Here are our top tips for how to best approach your expansion, giving your new empire the best chance of success.
It’s natural for operators of single-site enterprises to think of themselves as publicans or restaurateurs. As your business grows, it’s necessary to move away from this and into the mindset of the company director. This may mean you have new concerns, like detailed budgets and structured financial planning, that were not previously a significant consideration. Be sure that you and the people around you are able to effectively take on this responsibility before committing to growth.
Expansion that is not sustainable will damage your reputation and in the worst cases could spell the end for your business. It’s important to prepare very thoroughly, making plans and contingencies for your short, medium, and long-term future. Before adding a new site, you should be entirely confident both in its viability as a single enterprise, and as part of your wider brand, without overstretching your resources.
Like the biblical house built on stone, it’s important that as your business is constructed its foundations are strong. Having effective and scalable systems and processes in place is crucial. In our industry, this means trusted EPoS, labour scheduling, reservations, and payroll systems should be implemented and reconciled across all sites as soon as humanly possible. This will save time and money in the long run and allow for easy employee transfer across your growing estate with minimal retraining required.
It’s important to take an honest look at your offer. You might have a fantastic brand, but if you’re essentially a one trick pony, you may need to think very carefully about geography when expanding. Even the biggest industry players can fall foul of pitfalls here; in the last two years JD Wetherspoon has put more than 80 of their worst-performing pubs on the market, citing their proximity to other Wetherspoon sites. If looking to acquire new sites within close geographies, consider fresh ways to give each site unique character, opening up new pools of potential customers without pulling trade away from your existing sites.
If you’re in the position where expansion is a viable option, you must be doing something right, which means your business will already have a corps of loyal customers. Make the most of this in your marketing efforts for your new sites by promoting them heavily on your existing mailing lists and encouraging your fanbase to share details of your new locations on their social media profiles. This serves to organically create a reputation for your business in its new areas, which can be just as helpful as direct marketing.
You may be used to working as part of a small, close-knit team that feels more like being among friends than colleagues. That’s brilliant, and one of the reasons we love this industry, but that closeness can be diluted as your company grows. Try not to let this happen and focus on building a great company culture across all your sites. Organising social events that bring different sites’ teams together and offering employees incentives to visit your other sites can be very effective ways of making sure staff feel they are part of something worth being part of, and want to produce their very best for your business.
The more sites you acquire, the tougher it will get to manage them all closely. Multi-site operators are well-advised to embrace this fact and be willing to let go of control. Be thorough in your recruitment; leave no stone unturned in finding the best site managers, but then be prepared to back off. Invest your trust in them to run a tight ship without the need for you to oversee their every move, and the returns will be great.