Together Gill and I are ‘The Little Pub Company’. Gill is fifty, married with 2 grown up daughters and one daughter in her teens. She also has one granddaughter. I (Lesley) am fifty nine, twice divorced and have two grown up daughters.
Gill and I worked together for a small pub owning company based in the Midlands. Gill was my boss and the Operations Director for the company, whilst I prepared the company accounts.
Last year the bank called in all the loans for the company we worked for and in effect we realized that as soon as they were all sold we would no longer have employment. We both realized that we may be facing a very tough future especially at our age and in the current economic climate.
Deciding to buy part of the business
One day last August, Gill came to me and asked if I thought she would be able to buy some of the pubs (she had capital to invest – I did not – but that’s another story). My answer was – Well if you don’t try you’ll never know!
So that’s how we started. Although Gill would be putting in all the capital, we would operate as equals as my skills lie in the Finance side and Gill’s in the Operational side.
That was the start of what seems like a very long road raising the required finances. We had thought it may be hard work but frankly it was far more difficult than we expected. Being females in their fifties we were initially viewed with great scepticism and at times we felt patronized by ‘men in suits’.
The pub sector is extremely difficult at the moment. Many pubs are closing, and whilst Government increases in duty and the smoking policy are a contributory factor, the recession has compounded the issue. Competition from ‘big guns’ like Wetherspoons etc. has firmly nailed the lid on many coffins too. The ‘local’ is suffering as a result.
However, Gills knowledge of the industry is second to none (having spent over 30 years in it) and my financial skills are also top notch. We knew we could make a go of it if only we could attract the investment – around 450k and no mean feat in these straitened economic times.
Along the way we encountered many things that ‘irked’ us – ie we were treated in a way that had we been male would never have been. Not with disrespect you understand, but more surprised that we knew what we were doing. We also found that those ‘men in suits’ initially treated us almost as if we should be subservient to them – like they were talking to their staff rather than as business owners. Due to the complication that had arisen by working for the seller and being the purchaser we were asked questions that had we been unconnected parties they would never have been able to. And if we had been male they would never have considered asking. Many times they failed to separate our two identities (employee of one business and owner of another) and tried to hold our prospective purchases over us to try to manipulate us – especially Gill. Many times we felt aggrieved, but we bit the bullet and played the game.
High St Banks will not lend to the pub industry without at least 12 months accounts, and even then it is at such a low level we would need to have incredible personal disposable funds. However, it is in the interests of Breweries to support as many of the independent pubs as possible in order for them also to survive. If pubs are closing Breweries, by definition, also suffer.
We managed to negotiate very good deals with two Breweries and are now the proud owners of four public houses.
Stamping our brand on the business
When we took over the first of these pubs, we quickly realized that there were problems. The landlady there was due to give birth very soon and had taken her eye off the ball. As a result the pub had acquired a reputation for trouble and unsavoury customers. We decided that although we had planned a full refurbishment in about 12 months, we needed to close the pub and bring this forward immediately. We needed to stamp our brand on the property and encourage not only past customers back but new ones too. We have finished the refurb of the bar areas, installed a new landlady and are about to open the rear of the pub for food, having installed a brand new commercial kitchen in the rear of the property.
Both Gill and I are very alike in character. We never tread on each other’s toes as far as the business goes because we each operate totally different areas. Therefore it works extremely well. We both usually arrive at the same conclusions at the same time through different means.
Our pubs are not and never will be ‘Bistro’ pubs, nor will they be Wetherpoons types. Our pubs are old fashioned locals with a modern twist, but for the people who would never be seen in Wetherspoons. We have decided to install lounge areas and sell coffee as well as provide family entertainment – not just Football matches.
We intend to refurb and rebrand all the other pubs in the same way, whilst retaining the individual atmosphere of the pub and being sympathetic to the areas they are in.
However first we have to recoup the capital invested on the first one!
Our 3 tips for setting up a business in your 50s;
Believe in yourself – if you don’t how can anyone else
Know your industry
Take Risks – it’s no time for ‘safe’