(From the 2018 Autumn edition of the BII News)
Mark Robson is the MD of Red Mist Leisure, a group that runs 10 pubs and inns across Surrey and Hampshire. We met Mark to find out about their values, training and how the local community is at the heart of all their venues.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I would say two things. The first is the variety that this industry brings; I get to represent the company by attending lots of events and meeting with other operators and picking their brains. The second is working with people. Having a business that is built on great people is amazing – I love it. The guy who is the manager of our most recent pub to open came to us 7 years ago as a pot wash and he’s steadily risen through the ranks and is now well rounded, developed guy now. It’s immensely satisfying to see those type of stories happen in our business. We’re lucky to work in a people industry – it has its down sides, but it is incredibly rewarding to work with some really talented people.
What is the most challenging thing about running a licensed trade business?
Working with people is incredibly rewarding and satisfying and it’s pretty much the reason we do what we do, but it’s so tough in our industry right now – tougher than it’s ever been, I think. Finding people to work in particularly some of our remoter areas is really challenging because there is such a massive shortage of staff, particularly chefs, at the moment with Brexit really kicking in. If you want to attract the great employees, you have to make sure you’re the employer of choice with a very generous perks and benefits package. Great annual leave, pensions, salaries – but you have to do all of that and then scream and shout about it – but I am sure all operators are in the same position as us.
We work with 5 colleges locally, which is something that Vanessa, our HR Manager has really championed. We’ve had some really good recruits and work with Farnborough College directly for our Apprenticeships Programme – we’re working on developing links with several universities and introducing a Graduate Programme, but the vocational positions are where we struggle to find staff.
Several of your most recent acquisitions have been community pubs which might otherwise have closed, leaving no hub for the local village – is this something that is important to you personally?
Pubs inherently are bedrocks of the community – most of our pubs are rural and I think that’s even more exaggerated rurally. As we’ve developed along our journey we recognise the importance of pubs as active hubs in the community and it’s important to us that we take our responsibility to give something back seriously. Pubs are about being a place that people can come, socialise with each other, have a bite to eat and a quick drink.
Predominantly we are food based in our pubs – the wet side is very important and it’s the cornerstone of what we do, but our food is probably what we’re best known for. You just can’t dish up stuff that has come out of a microwave these days. You’ve got to have ethics and morals behind your food and a clear direction of what you’re trying to do. We’re really big on sustainability which is vital in our industry going forward and is something that seems to be really important to our customers too.
You also offer local business networking events and support several local charities via challenges and fundraising. How do you decide which charities to support?
Networking events is a long term marketing strategy – it’s not going to pay instant dividends but it’s a great way to promote your own business by promoting and helping other local businesses. What we do at these events is provide a free breakfast but ask that people donate something small to the chosen charity for that pub. It’s a great way to support charities and causes that are close to the hearts of people in our business and the local community.
Each of our pubs supports a different charity – at the Royal Exchange for example, we decided to support the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance Trust and raised well over £10,000. A few months back, the director that runs the Exchange ended up calling the Air Ambulance out to a family member. You just never know when you’re going to need something like that, so it’s great that we can offer that support and let each pub and their customers decide. We also support lots of local sports clubs, local events, fetes etc. which is all part of being in the local community.
What prompted you to join the BII and have you used any of the member benefits?
We’re involved in a few different industry bodies and we joined last year, after speaking to your CEO Mike at several events where our paths had crossed. As we have managers in our pubs, we would be the ones using the benefits of the BII and passing the information and help down the line, but we have used several of the Marketplace Partners for insurance quotes etc. and our accounts team have been dealing with the offer from your PDQ suppliers. I’m a lover of this industry, so I read Propel and other morning briefings, but I enjoy the different perspective that the BII e-newsletter offers.