Barons Pub Company is a collection of food-led pubs in the south of England. It was founded by Clive Price in 2000 and has grown healthily since. Averaging a new site acquisition every two years, Barons expanded outside of its Surrey heartland for the first time in early 2017, opening The Black Boy near Reading. Barons pubs have won a host of local and national accolades, including the coveted Shepherd Neame Food Pub of the Year 2017, while Clive himself was a finalist in the prestigious BII Licensee of the Year Award in the same year.
Barons have been using S4Labour since 2015 to control costs, generate sales, and provide better insight across their growing estate. We met Clive to discuss his business, its success, and how S4Labour helps to drive it.
How was Barons founded and developed to its current form?
Having worked in a wide range of hospitality jobs since the age of fifteen, as well as gaining a degree in catering management and economics, by the year 2000 I felt I had gathered enough experience to start out on my own. So Barons was born, originally as a single site restaurant which soon developed into a string of popular pubs. Our ethos has always been a simple one – promoting high quality food and drink in line with great hospitality from warm and friendly staff. Increasingly we have focused on attractive refurbishments of sites, which based on customer feedback and financial results, has been part of a winning formula.
How is the business structured today?
We employ 350 people across the seven sites, as well as fifteen head office staff who are based at our flagship site, The Cricketers at Horsell near Woking. I originally founded Barons with a business partner, who moved on from the business in 2008, although several other members of our head office team are approaching ten years’ service. We have recently appointed a dedicated administrative assistant at every site, which has helped create a professional atmosphere and freed up managers’ time to focus on guests.
What makes Barons unique and successful?
I believe that at its heart, hospitality is about making people feel good, and that this goes deeper than quality food and polished service. We pride ourselves on being the best we can, and identify several core company values. Amongst these are the celebration of success, covering everything from a new barman’s first perfect pint to winning a national award, and a desire to evolve and embrace change to stay on top of our game. This has created a positive, professional, forward-thinking atmosphere that has been at the core of our success.
What led you to decide an advanced labour scheduling solution would be of benefit to Barons?
There were numerous factors. We were frustrated with the lack of management control we had over labour costs. The pen and paper approach we were using felt dated and caused issues such as rotas going missing and difficulties accessing historic data. As we opened more pubs, we realised we needed a system that would give us insight into all sites quickly and easily.
What led you to decide that S4Labour was the best option for you?
The system came highly recommended to us by a former colleague, and when it was demonstrated we liked it straight away. It was clear that S4Labour would provide the solution we were seeking at a reasonable price, so we were very happy to proceed with the relationship.
What other tools do you use in your business, and how have these been able to operate alongside S4Labour?
We use Zonal for our EPoS system, and the fact that S4Labour run a seamless integration with Zonal for importing sales figures has always been a real benefit. We run our payroll through a local accountant, who has found S4Labour’s payroll export to be a hassle-free way of ensuring staff are paid correctly and on time.
How have processes changed as a result of using S4Labour?
We don’t see S4Labour as a stick to beat managers with, rather as a tool to help them optimise their rota-writing process. It has more often been used to identify understaffing than overstaffing, which has led to better scheduling, with increased sales and better service as a result. This success has prompted a wider technological push within our business, including the introduction of a new automated table reservation process.
How has your relationship been with individuals within S4Labour?
They’ve been very helpful. We always get a prompt and useful response to queries. Since our initial training we have felt that we are dealing with individual professionals who care about our needs and want to work with us, rather than a faceless corporation.
What’s next for Barons?
Ten years ago, I wrote a plan for how I wanted the next decade to look. This has now been delivered with a high level of accuracy. The core of our business is in excellent shape, and with the increased control we now have, there’s no reason this can’t continue for the next ten years. Turnover for the twelve months to September 2016 was £9.7 million, and this is projected to rise to £12.5 million for 2017. Profits are also likely to increase, in part because of better cost controls. We will continue to focus on delivering great hospitality in attractive pubs, and may seek to acquire sites with the potential to develop an accommodation offer. Ultimately, we are targeting twelve to fifteen sites, and will use S4Labour to help us reach this goal.
How do you plan to use S4Labour in the future to further improve processes and drive ongoing success?
As our business grows, any system that gives more management control is very welcome. We have recently started using S4Labour’s new HR module, which will give us greater insight into the human side of our business and save our administrative staff a lot of time. We will also continue to use S4Labour to optimise staff deployment to drive profits. We have been able to use the system to identify potential cost savings of £7,000 a week, and that we were underspending on labour at weekends by as much as 8% of sales. Rectifying this has led to happier customers, more profits through fewer missed sales opportunities, and more motivated team members.
What challenges do you face?
Without question our biggest challenge is cost pressure. Business rates have doubled in recent years and our rents have risen in response to our success. I approve of the National Living Wage as it encourages people to forge long-term careers in hospitality, but it is also a strain, while commodity prices have increased by 40% in some areas. S4Labour gives us better insight into and control of costs, which is a big help in planning for the future.
What advice would you give to any similar business that was looking to engage S4Labour?
Do it – especially if you are still working with pen and paper or a spreadsheet. There are so many benefits, including greater insight, control of costs, and clarity of communication, especially across multiple sites, that it quickly pays for itself.