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What we Learned at the Propel Summer Conference

Posted by - Last updated: Wednesday July 12th 2017

Last Thursday, we were lucky enough to sponsor the latest in a long line of excellent Propel events. This year’s summer conference, complete with evening party, as ever saw a programme packed with illuminating speakers from all areas of hospitality. Across those on stage, we saw a common theme – strong, genuine people with a passion for what they do. Such inspiring leadership leads to the development of successful businesses, and it was a pleasure to spend the day with them.

Even as industry experts, it’s always a good time to learn new tricks, and we left armed with fresh insight on how the very best operate. Here are the key messages we took home with us.

Looking After People Pays

Jonathan Arana-Morton, co-founder of café concept The Breakfast Club, whose London sites routinely attract prodigious queues, delivered a punchy and energetic talk on his brand’s approach and expansion. His dedication to developing people shone through, with several members of his central staff today having progressed from initial front of house roles. Charity projects are also a cornerstone of The Breakfast’s Club’s ethos, with those who are happy to dedicate time outside work to helping others likely to be employees who go the extra mile to deliver special experiences. This leads to a superb working culture that’s plain to see and with rave reviews from customers, the approach clearly pays dividends.

We also learned that Jonathan does a mean Bill Withers at karaoke. It stands to reason; with queues round the block it’s always gonna be a lovely day!

Since 2005, The Breakfast Club has built an extremely loyal fanbase

Exceptional Retention, Exceptional Business

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin was in typically bullish yet playful mood as he stormed through his Q&A session with his Propel counterpart Paul Charity. When asked the reasons behind Wetherspoon’s unusually strong staff retention – an average service of eleven years for managers is streets ahead of the industry norm – he quipped that it’s largely because after working at one of his 900+ pubs they could never get a job anywhere else.

But beneath the jocular façade is a critical truth. Wetherspoon is a monumental success story, with profits and influence at levels of which others in the industry can only dream. Exceptional retention leads to exceptional business, and investment in staff training and development to promote longevity of service is rarely wasted.

Big Data is a Big Opportunity

A consistent strength of Propel events is the variety of the speakers. Amidst the presentations from experienced front-line operators, Simon Blackbourne, commercial director of analytics firm Tahola, delivered an insightful talk on the vast opportunities ‘Big Data’ can bring for those shrewd enough to exploit them.

Trusting your gut to make decisions on everything from stock levels to new site locations is looking increasingly to be a thing of the past, while the scope for cross-platform pollination of data is evidently massive. Combining data from labour scheduling systems, EPoS, and training providers will provide a depth of knowledge to improve any busines.

Allow Site Managers to Focus on What They Do Best

Colin Sadler, managing director of Revere Pub Company, Marston’s’ premium managed concept, spoke with energy and enthusiasm on his experiences with the firm to date. Perhaps surprisingly, he described his relationship with the brewing behemoth as relaxed and liberal, with the freedom to build a brand however he sees fit. Simultaneously, he praised the support provided by Marston’s when required with systems and essential, if less glamorous, business functions.

With Revere reporting a 7% rise in revenue last year and eyeing numerous new openings, this approach seems to be working. We see a lesson here for many in our industry. Site managers and their teams are often superb at providing quality products and service, but may struggle with tasks behind the scenes. A good head office, backed up by an effective operations manager, can provide the building blocks for similar success by providing the systems and support that allow those at site level to focus on doing what they do best.

Mowgli have developed a quality alternative Indian offer

Quality is King

After a twenty-year career as a barrister, Nisha Katona took the bold decision to trade court chambers for tiffin boxes and founded her Indian street food concept Mowgli. Her tireless passion for the food of her heritage shone, and it’s no surprise a £3.45 million outside investment in the brand has now been announced to support forthcoming expansion.

As a relative newcomer to hospitality, Nisha has faced a steep learning curve, but when asked, “What do you think more established industry figures could do better?”, she didn’t hesitate in her answer; food quality. With more than a few in the audience hungrily eyeing her on-stage menu imagery it’s hard to disagree. Even in today’s discerning and saturated market genuine quality will still attract crowds.

Who Dares Wins

Few people build a successful pub company. Fewer still build three. Yet that’s exactly what David Bruce, currently chairman of The West Berkshire Brewery, has done. As he entertained the room with pithy tales of his experiences with Firkin Pubs, The Capital Pub Company, and City Pub Company, the common themes were vision, grit, and the courage to back your ideas when others doubt them.

Through crowdfunding and government-supported EIS schemes, David has raised over £100 million to fund his visions, and sends a clear message to today’s would-be hospitality entrepreneurs. For the visionary, determined and plucky operator, today’s market brings opportunities to secure the backing needed to be part of the next generation of success stories.

Work with your Community

Rounding off the day was another respected industry veteran, Rupert Clevely, MD of Ei Group managed joint venture Hippo Inns. Apparently named in response to Rupert’s desultory wallowing as he looked for a new project following the sale of Geronimo to Youngs, Hippo has enjoyed a fruitful first two years, opening a tenth London site last week.

Clearly animated by the venture, he emphasised the importance of understanding, appreciating, and working with the community around your sites. This is an ethos close to the heart of Hippo. Each pub is markedly different, their offers tailored to the communities around them, from contemporary and aspirational west London hotspots to rugged yet chic East End style. Making the effort to relate to your local community and having the foresight to develop an offering they will value is a recipe for a loyal following and sustained achievement.

Catton’s Richard Hartley goes for goal at the evening party

At S4Labour we’re dedicated to helping the best get even better by helping them control costs, maximise efficiency, drive sales, and save time. This provides a framework for long-term success that allows operators to pursue their passions and make their visions a reality.

It was a privilege to spend the day (and night) in the company of so many inspiring hospitality professionals, and served as a fine reminder why we love this industry. We’re already looking forward to doing it again at the autumn conference.

To find out more about how S4Labour can help drive your ongoing business success call 01295 267400 today.

 

Alec Vještica

A hospitality professional who combines an analytical mind with energy and frontline experience in his approach, Alec worked in managed houses for companies including Greene King and Samuel Smith's before joining Catton in 2016. He is passionate about the industry and always enjoys meeting operators across all sectors.

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