BII News’ celebrates the success of industry figures each edition. In our autumn 2020 edition, Our Hospitality Hero was Trevor Brown CBII, licensee and owner of stocktaker and consultancy firm SureStock.
OHH! BII’s ‘Business Doctor’ for over a decade and owner of licensed trade stocktakers and consultancy SureStock, Trevor Brown CBII stepped up to the ultimate challenge and took on a pub, a lease witha private landlord, last summer.
After 30+ years advising licensees how to run successful pub businesses, Trevor Brown CBII put his money where his mouth is, as the saying goes, to take on The Pickled Ploughman in Adderbury, near Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Having added 30% to the turnover within the first six months of opening, he was able to prove to himself that he still had what it takes!
“I always swore I’d never come back to running a pub again. But I needed to know that I could still do it,” says Trevor, who previously ran pubs “in his youth” and served as an Area Manager for Marston’s.
After this remarkably good start, he continued to build the business, delivering a very strong January to March.
Trade was up at the pub by 40% by the time he entered lockdown – a time he used to plan, prepare and focus on remaining profitable by pivoting the business to establish a market stall outside the pub and a takeaway meal offer.
“It has been amazing. I’ve managed to roll-over a lot of goodwill created during lockdown, when I made an awful lot of friends in the village and the surrounding areas,” says Trevor, who has continued the takeaway service for the remaining people still shielding locally. He also plans to keep the takeaway business up his sleeve as “future proofing”, should another lockdown be imposed.
Having secured the £25,000 Coronavirus Government business grant, he invested in the pub, from decorating to £8,000-worth of kitchen equipment and creating extra seating.
“I ordered a marquee in the first three weeks of lockdown, including all the furniture to go with it. It cost £10,000 and I considered it worth it, as I was thinking about how to take the inside outside, not just over the summer, but into the autumn and even the winter season.”
In preparation for reopening, he removed eight tables from the main dining and bar area, which he replaced with the equivalent number in the marquee, plus extended the outside terrace into the car park.
“An awful lot of pubs took the grant and used it for overhead costs. I ran the market stall, plus produced 100s and 100s of takeaways, offering a home delivery service to those that needed it. We literally didn’t stop for 111 days. We even made it onto the front cover of the village magazine, got an award for ‘Unsung Hero’ from the local MP and received TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice award too.”
In August, the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (EOTHO) also proved a winner, with Trevor reporting like-for-likes up 104% working on margins that were up 2.3%, thanks also to the VAT cut to 5%.
“The numbers were huge each week in August and I was sending the Chancellor a bill for neigh on £5,000 a week.
“The saddest thing was that we were having to turn away three times the number of people we were able to serve over the Monday to Wednesday, but we managed to roll most of them over onto the other days. It meant we were pretty much trading at the equivalent of six Saturdays, with no adverse impact on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which was encouraging.”
While lockdown was all about planning and preparing for reopening, the summer has been about getting a return on the investment: making hay, literally while the sun was shining.
“I feel much of our good fortune has come from what we did over lockdown, from the goodwill we created, through to all the improvements. And I’m proud to say because we traded profitability that I was able to pay all of the salaries, along with the rent in full, and still managed to show a profit. This was important because three new members of staff weren’t entitled to furlough.”
He continues: “Success is all about planning and putting in great standards and service, so you can take every opportunity.
“I preached about all of this for 10 years as the BII’s Business Doctor in my column in the old magazine.
You’ve got to stand back and see what you’re doing. If the business model is broken, you need to change it.”
He adds: “People love what we have done here and it has all been about investment and improvements: £2,000 on high quality screening and having 2m+ (not 1m, or even 1m+) between the tables. I’ve gone over the top, in terms of spacing things out, but I believe when your bread and butter trade is the 60+ brigade, it’s important that they love it. The total redecoration we did is paying dividends too.”
Other changes have seen specials being taken off the menu, along with the fixed-price dining offer removed.
“We’re just about coping in what is a small kitchen, and reducing the menu has helped.”
All the staff have their temperatures taken and recorded on a ‘sign in’ sheet every shift, and between staff and customers, we got through 40-litres of hand sanitiser over the summer.
“The staff have their own hand sanitiser, which we’ve made very visible to the customers. They can also see staff preparing the pre-packed cutlery, which we sanitise and put into cellophane bags ready for guests. We’re receiving lots of very positive comments,” says Trevor, adding that the first guests on reopening were his parents, aged 92 and 89. “My mother is my harshest critic, so I thought, if I she enjoys a lovely lunch and leaves feeling happy and safe, that’s a sign I’ve got everything right.”
It’s not, he adds, the survival of the fittest, but about those most adaptable to change and who exploit all opportunities.
Trevor concludes: “The harder I work – and we’ve all worked incredibly hard throughout – the luckier I seem to get!”