I’m Matt Woodhouse, an 8th Generation family member, and I was a Business Development Partner between 2017 and 2020 for the Surrey and Sussex areas of the Business Partnership estate. My background was in finance, training as a Forensic Accountant in London before coming on board at Hall & Woodhouse. I spent the first 6 months after joining working in our pubs and across various parts of the business to learn the ropes before taking up the role as a BDP.
In my view, the role distils down to a) being the main point of contact between the Business Partner and Hall & Woodhouse, and b) acting as a business consultant for each individual Business Partnership. Each Business Partner has their own strengths and weaknesses, the BDP’s job is to assist the operator run their pub as successfully as possible by adding value where it is needed the most, be that with pub operations, finance, marketing, menu planning, team recruitment / issues, property, investment projects etc. The old adage that no two days are the same really rings true for life as a BDP – each of the c.35 Business Partnership public houses you are responsible for have their different wants and needs.
I love going through the recruitment process and finding new BPs to run our pubs, then watching them progress and ultimately excel. Hall & Woodhouse has a strong reputation in the industry for how we run our tenanted business, so we are often fortunate to have a raft of strong applicants come forward for any given vacancy. The recruitment process is thorough and can take up to 6 months from start to finish, but it is designed to find the best suited operator to run the pub and give them the best chance of success.
Other highlights are when a major pub investment scheme is carried out and seeing the finished product which not only looks so great aesthetically, but also drives the increase in trade it was designed to.
Allocation of time! With responsibility for 35 pubs there are peaks and troughs in demand, sometimes a lot of different things need your attention simultaneously. Clear prioritisation and delegation skills can help a lot when faced with situations like this – there is a fantastic support team around the BDPs (Credit Control, Property Surveyor, Telesales, Dray, Marketing etc.) so it’s important to lean on these people to make sure you have the time to focus on all aspects of the role.
My first goal with any Business Partner, whether an industry veteran or first time publican, is to build a strong relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Without these two foundations in place I find that it can be difficult to have conversations in an open and honest manner, conversely when they are in place the Business Partnership has a fantastic platform to thrive from.
Next, my goal would be to understand the Business Partners’ ‘why’, i.e. their core motivation for running their chosen pub. Is it financial, is it the lifestyle, is it a love for cooking or hospitality? Once ‘the why’ has been established, common goals and a shared vision for direction of travel can start to be worked towards.
First and foremost I would want to understand whether a potential Business Partner shares Hall & Woodhouse’s values. We are a company with strong values which sit at the heart of our decision making, and we want to be in partnership with people who understand and believe in these.
As the recruitment process commences one of the next things I’d look for in an applicant is a track record of success. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the industry, there are many vocations which have great transferrable skills to the pub trade, however if an applicant can demonstrate a level of achievement in their career to date along with a strong business acumen, this is a great start.
By the end of the recruitment process, the prospective Business Partner must have a thorough understanding of the pub, the local market, their target demographic, all of which will be communicated in their business plan, and will be key to their progress.
Finally, we want our BPs to be great at dealing with people. Being personable and enjoying interacting with guests from all walks of life will give the best chance of winning over your locals and providing great hospitality to anyone who visits your pub.
Being a Business Partner with Hall & Woodhouse not only provides the ability for someone to be their own boss, but offers a fair deal and therefore an opportunity to run a profitable business. BPs enjoy the freedom of being able to make autonomous business decisions, but with the wraparound support on offer from Hall & Woodhouse as and when needed.
For many, one of the most enjoyable aspects of running a pub is the social interaction and variety provided by running their own business. Whilst demanding in terms of hours worked, it can provide a great work life balance for Business Partners with families who may live and/or work in the pub alongside them.
It is well documented that the Coronavirus crisis has fast tracked a number of emerging trends, i.e. delivery and technology enabled ordering platforms. As the industry looks to establish the ‘new normal’, I fully expect a degree of these to stick – if a pub has invested in setting these up and it enhances the guest experience or opens up a new revenue stream it would be wise to maintain.
3-4 months of closure is enough time for new routines to become habit, however many of those who have been away from pubs for the lockdown period will be eager to rediscover what it is about the British pub that makes it so loved. If pubs can provide an environment that makes guests feel safe alongside the usual hospitality, great food, great drink, and great looking pubs, I have no doubt that the industry will recover well before a vaccine to the virus is found.
In terms of legislation, after the swathes of targeted financial government support for the hospitality industry through the crisis, they now seem to currently have a keen ear for some of the long term concerns of the industry, namely business rates and beer duty. Both of these costs are disproportionate (pubs pay well over their % of relevant business turnover in business rates, and beer duty is over 10 times higher than in other major European countries). The increased focus on addressing these in the short term may well be a silver lining of what has happened in the first half of 2020.
Finally, there will inevitably be a lot of capacity coming out of the eating out market due to some businesses and operators being unable to reopen and ride out the crisis over the next year or so. Whilst this is sad to see, there was a very real case of over capacity that had built up over the last decade, so this should be good news for the stronger businesses which manage to come through the other side.