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Fri 10th May 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Opposite ends of the scale, Transition for talented people, Warners weekend, and revitalising our high streets
Authors: Glynn Davis, Nick Bish, Ann Elliott and Brigid Simmonds 

Opposite ends of the scale by Glynn Davis

One of the UK’s most non-PC comedians, the late Bernard Manning, used to have a running gag at his shows in which he would pick an overweight member of the audience and a slimmer one and suggest the thin one looked like he had been in a famine his larger mate had caused.

This oddly reminds me of the brief time I spent working in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when I discovered the Californian city had an extremely polarised population. Half seemed crazed, teetotal health fanatics on a weight-loss regime, while the other 50% were obese individuals on the path to early death from massive overconsumption of food and alcohol.

The health-conscious members of my office were firmly in the former camp and found it hard to accept I’d pop to a bar for a few beers after work. Apart from Fridays, which was the only acceptable drinking evening for my colleagues, my bar visits were invariably solo missions. To the majority in the office my behaviour suggested a raging alcoholic – just like the stereotypical English blokes they’d read about.

I wonder whether we’re falling into a similar polarised situation in the UK when it comes to drinking alcohol? Of most interest is the younger grouping of Generation Z – the 18 to 24-year-olds. It’s clear total alcohol sales are falling in the UK, and this is particularly prevalent among Generation Z.

Research by KAM Media found that in 2018 almost two-fifths (39%) of the group claimed to be teetotal, which is more than twice the average level in the UK across the whole population. Proof of this move to a healthier lifestyle can be seen in almost half (49%) of respondents heading to the gym at the end of the day compared with a modestly higher 51% who go to the pub. This represents a serious 20% uplift in gym-goers since 2015.

However, countering these numbers is evidence from the Stonegate wet-led pubs business, which last year enjoyed a record-breaking fresher’s week. Chairman Ian Payne thinks part of the fall in consumption is simply down to the higher strength of beer today. Whereas a few years ago 3.8% ABV was the normal level for a beer and 5% Stella something akin to “loopy juice”, craft beer today is so packed with flavour and alcohol Payne says it’s impossible for most people to drink more than three pints in a session.

KAM Media founder Katy Moses suggests government statistics show levels of obesity, diabetes and alcohol problems are the same as before. There has been no noticeable decline in-line with the healthier trends we are seeing among Generation Z. “There seems to be two extremes of healthy and indulgent,” she says.

While this is undoubtedly the case, Moses suggests the middle ground is the dangerous (uncertain) part of the market for leisure and hospitality operators. But is it? We are seeing massive potential in what is undoubtedly the bridge between these two polarised camps – low and no-alcohol beer and spirits.

Drinks businesses around the world have recognised new product development in this area could provide the double-whammy of tempting non-drinkers into the category while appealing to regular drinkers who want to consume less and perhaps alternate between low-alcohol beer and their 10% triple IPA.

Certainly sales for low and no-alcohol beer in Western Europe have risen 18% in the past five years, according to Euromonitor, which predicts a further 12% climb by the end of 2022. I suspect low-strength beers might not have particularly appealed to Bernard Manning but, thankfully in many respects, the world has moved on and the market needs to adapt to the desires, demand and sensitivities of the younger generation.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Transition for talented people by Nick Bish

The upstream supply of good multi-site operations managers depends a lot on those skilled and successful unit general managers whose ambitions lead that way. This is quite rightly encouraged in an industry that wants to “grow its own timber”.

However, a cautionary tale about a highly regarded unit manager who was asked by her company to take on multi-site responsibilities reveals potential pitfalls. She was competent, confident and agreed to take on the extra responsibility. It didn’t go well at first. She thought she could replicate her skills in the new sites and, with extra effort, manage the workload and distances involved. 

The site performances weren’t good and bosses asked her for remedial solutions, which didn’t stop them asking her to also focus on opening another site. Because she was willing and eager she agreed. Crucially, she reviewed the situation and challenges and, calling her team together, told them: “I can’t do it for you. I will support and advise you but it’s down to you individually to succeed in your own sites.” Needless to say the opening went well, area results improved and that person is now head of operations at her company.

The scenario turned out well because this highly competent and engaging individual had her own epiphany, recognising the challenges and taking her own steps to turn things round. However, the industry has yet to fully realise the move from single site to multi-site is no promotional curve, it’s a high-rise step that’s easy to trip on.

Running a pub, club, bar or hotel is a high-energy job and one that calls for wide knowledge and technical skill. It also requires leadership and a fine grasp of satisfying the customer base. It’s impressive how widely and well this is carried out in our industry, often by individuals who are relatively young in years but mature in experience. But it’s at single-site level where the general manager can almost always stay on top of the people and performance – commanding a team effort that gets results. 

There are many and varied opportunities for these managers. Some may be promoted to ever-larger sites with more complexity and responsibility, while others may decide to start their own business, be it lease or purchase. Others might like the idea of area management, with ambitions for a corporate career. This last category is the opportunity for companies to appoint skilled and successful people in multi-site roles.

The point is, of course, the job changes dramatically. Really good multi-site managers are able to direct and support their people and sites remotely. They need to have really effective relationships with unit managers and teams and be able to confidently gallop off to another site, frequently many miles away, to continue the process. This role requires more support and guidance than command and control – but it’s still leadership.

Companies that wisely recruit operations managers from within will gain the vital advantage of appointing a known quantity, someone who knows exactly how the business should be run and has a track record of doing so. This individual will also understand the culture and style of the organisation, which is something that takes time with external recruits. There’s also the financial advantage of not having to spend money on external searches and fees.

All this depends, though, on the new multi-site manager being properly developed to make this step. That’s why I’m glad to be involved in the new Transition programme, which has been designed to resolve this challenge. It has been developed by a number of leading independent operators who see the need for the Transition programme and relish the outcome without necessarily being big enough to implement it in-house. 

The Area Manager Programme will take candidates away for four, 36-hour residential sessions with topics including time management, team communications and dynamics, emotional balance, and humility in leadership, while instilling a team vision and purpose. The aim is to layer real leadership on a relatively complex organisation to achieve the best outcome for its people and business.

These courses will run a couple of times a year, complemented by a shorter Gateway model, which will introduce these topics to future area managers while remaining relevant to others in head office roles with multi-site responsibilities.

All this responds to the need for a reliable upstream source for operations managers and is definitely part of the industry’s ambition to have a full career pathway – from bar to boardroom – for its talented people.
Nick Bish is former chief executive of the ALMR, where he founded the Operations Managers Awards. He is now closely involved with the Transition initiative

Warners weekend by Ann Elliott

In November I asked my dad what he wanted for Christmas and, as he’s 89, there isn’t much left for him to ask for to be honest. He has too many socks for someone who can only wear one pair at a time, he falls asleep if he drinks more than one glass of wine, COOK could open one of its shops offering what he has in his freezer, and he can’t do watercolours fast enough to use all the paint I buy him. Tricky. After some prompting, however, he finally announced he would like to have a weekend with us in a Warner hotel in the new year.

It’s not what I expected (or wanted) if I’m perfectly honest but off we went to Bodelwyddan in North Wales for our Warner stay during May bank holiday weekend. I don’t suppose I approached it in the right frame of mind, expecting a mix of Butlins (been there with the children), Center Parcs (visited many times) and a cruise liner for 10,000 retired holidaymakers (not quite ready yet). Initial impressions only served to reinforce my preconceptions.

In normal hotels receptionists at the front desk greet you with a smile the moment you escape those revolving doors in which you and/or your luggage have got trapped – but not here. No warm welcome or genial chat, no recognisable hospitality. This was no-nonsense. “Here’s your virtually unreadable map, here’s your activity guide (don’t even think about booking online) and here’s your key card. Next.”

We wandered aimlessly around trying to find our room and by the time we opened the door and dumped our bags I was very grumpy, with little in the way of a positive emotional bank balance towards the hotel. Dinner finished at 8pm so we had to get a move on. We were asked to pay for drinks as we went through the meal and then on to the cabaret – the sounds of Abba from the entertainments team.

After a challenging sleep because the room was so cold, I was prepared to give up the ghost on the whole Warner experience and book into an Airbnb for the rest of the weekend. However, my dad was enjoying himself and that’s why, I kept reminding myself, we were all here in the first place.

Then a strange thing happened. During the day other guests began to recognise, smile and speak to us. Our waitress (we had the same table with the same waitress every night) had a lovely sense of humour. The food was good, with lots of choice. The entertainments team put their heart and soul into their performance. There was a blanket for our bed. 

My grumpiness subsided and it dawned on me most guests weren’t Warner virgins, they were regular return visitors who loved everything about the concept, from the buffet to the (tribute) band. They liked the routine of when, where and what to eat but also the flexibility of being able to join in activities (line-dancing, quizzes, shooting, walks) if they wanted. They didn’t need explanations about the charge card or map or drop-off place, they knew it all off by heart, making us the odd ones out.

I’ve thought about it a lot since. In 1991 there were nine million over-65s in the UK (16% of the population), in 2016 there were almost 12 million (18%) and by 2066 there will be 20 million (26%). That’s a lot of over-65s with the time, money and inclination to go away for a weekend surrounded by like-minded people (and no young children).

Warner, cleverly, has the market to itself – and does it very well. The weekend could have done with a bit more personality and hospitality but the concept works – and now I understand why its regular guests love it.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Revitalising our high streets by Brigid Simmonds

I was asked to speak at an Inside Government conference this week on the next steps to revitalise the UK’s high streets while sharing best practice from four years of being a judge at the Great British High Street competition. In a week of so many policy announcements relating to the high street, the timing was perfect.

Most significant of all, perhaps, was the government’s response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into high streets and town centres, which looked at alternatives to business rates. Inevitably the government’s response was robust, citing its warmly welcomed one-third reduction in business rates for businesses with a rental value of less than £51,000, worth £60m to the pub trade alone, while dismissing calls for alternative taxes to business rates to boost the high street.

As ever, the British Beer & Pub Association continues to make the case for government to change the business rates system to support our high streets and especially pubs, which pay 2.8% of the total business rates bill yet equate for only 0.5% of turnover. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t other government support that pubs and the wider hospitality sector can make use of and I think we can agree it’s important to use all the help we can get. 

Last year, for example, the government appointed Sir John Timpson to chair an expert panel on the Great British high street. The panel’s report identified the importance of local leadership to boost high streets because no two towns are the same, they each have their own unique culture and heritage. As a result, the government is setting up a High Street Task Force with £9m of funding. Once up and running the task force will be a place for local leaders across the UK to access highly valuable support and guidance to regenerate their high streets and town centres.

Furthermore, the chancellor’s decision to give £675m in funding for high streets in last year’s Budget was a huge boost. That funding will help improve infrastructure and access to our high streets, which in turn will see investment in them grow. Expressions of interest for phase one of the funding attracted 300 bids. It’s worth the pub and hospitality sectors seeing how they can become involved with such schemes.

Local government is also a great source of support for our high streets and town centres, particularly where councils have the right skills and are prepared to invest. At the Inside Government conference, former councillor Graham Galpin spoke about Ashford Council’s £50m regeneration investment, which used data-driven insights to smarten Ashford’s high street and events and interactive experiences to drive footfall. The council is also developing a cinema complex and bought and refurbished a covered market it now offers to startups at low rents.

This locally driven regeneration reiterates what I learned from the Great British High Street, where winners such as Bishops Waltham and Cowbridge exemplified how important local leadership is for high street and town centre regeneration.

Of course the hospitality sector also has a key role to play in the regeneration of high streets. We should all do our bit to engage in schemes taking place across the country, particularly pubs, which sit at the heart of their communities and, in many cases, are the last public space on the high street.

Are your managers or lessees looking to see how they can help? Is your local high street vibrant or could your community do more? Has it applied for the multitude of government funding available?

We can all sit back, criticise public policy and find reasons why our high streets are failing, namely by blaming the government – but we can also play a part in helping our high streets. At the end of the day, local leadership is the key to local success.
Brigid Simmonds is chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association

 
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