As a chef by trade and with 13 years’ experience as a general manager in several pub companies, by 2017, Martin and his partner Rowena Sanderson were ready to take on a new challenge – their own business.
The Sanderson’s took on the daunting task of bringing a closed down pub back to life, taking on the lease of The Stags Head pub in a quaint Lancashire village.
With a firm concept and the experience to execute it well, it made sense for Martin and Rowena to join the BII as they began to set up their new business:
“We used both the card processing with First Data and the insurance deal with PXL. By being with the BII we got a great deal, saving us money - and the process was really simple.”
Just 18 months after they started trading, The Stags Head had been crowned the ‘Most Family Friendly Pub’ at the annual Star Pubs & Bars Awards – an impressive feat, considering the venue was dormant a little more than a year earlier.
When asked what the biggest challenge was that came with re-launching a run-down pub, Martin replied:
“Winning people’s trust in the local area. The pub had been closed and reopened several times in recent years and a lot of the locals had a “how long will this one last” mentality. By showing our commitment to the pub and our guests we won them over, and now have a strong and loyal customer base.”
Every effort has been made to ensure The Stags Head merged perfectly as both a gastropub and a family friendly environment, which no doubt contributed to locals embracing the updated look and feel of the venue. With huge outdoor play areas, board games, activity sheets, a bouncy castle in the summer and pet chickens – The Stags Head is a kid’s wonderland. Combined with the quality food and extensive drinks range, the pub has become a welcome haven for parents that want to enjoy a child friendly venue without having to sacrifice the fine dining experience.
The decision to make families target market of The Stags Head and renovate the pub to reflect this was not just a clever marketing plan – it came from Martin and Rowena’s personal experiences too:
“As our daughter, Sophie, started to get to toddler stage Rowena and I noticed a change in the sort of pubs we were visiting. Instead of visiting our usual premium dining pubs, we found Sophie preferred the more traditional family pubs… but we missed out on the quality aspect of our visits.”
“We decided we couldn’t be the only family that want to include a premium pub experience for the whole family, and that’s how the concept was born.”
Just over a year since opening, with the pub now trading in full swing and a Star Award accolade to its’ name - it’s safe to say the previously abandoned Stags Head has surpassed most expectations. We asked Martin to summarise what advice he would give to someone starting out in a similar situation:
“Have a clear vision and stick to your principles, put your guests and team at the heart of everything you do, it’s the little things you do differently that can have a big impact. It is also important to be consistent.”
This firm plan and determination to make The Stags Head stand out as a unique pub has also created the opportunity for the Sanderson’s to include their own flair and creative ideas into the business:
“Our weekly Spanish lessons for children are going well. Also the investment in our beer garden, adding a bouncy castle and a chicken coop too. The children love seeing the chickens and it keeps them coming back again and again.”
Whether they are advising locals on the newest beer in stock, serving hungry travellers passing through, setting up a kids play area or activities, Martin explained that The Stags Head exists to achieve the same goal with every type of customer:
“I truly believe that our purpose is to have a positive impact on everyone my team or I meet. This is made clear in our mission statement “everyone who enters, leaves with a smile.”
When Martin left school he started his career as a commis chef at the local pub, and by 19 he was running the kitchen as head chef. At 22 he took on his first General Manager role at a pub company, continuing to work as a GM for the next 13 years across other pub & hospitality companies.
Best thing about my business:
Quite simply, making people smile!
Have you used any of the member benefits, and if so could you describe your experience? Yes, we use both the card processing with First data and the insurance deal with PXL. By being with the BII we get a great deal, saving us money and the process was really simple.
What’s one thing you would tell your younger self starting out? Don’t be afraid to go for it!
How do you relax outside of work? I love spending time with my fiancée, Rowena and my 2 children, Sophie (6) and Charlie (18 months). We enjoy trips abroad and visit Malta frequently. I am a Preston North End season ticket holder and, of course, we love visiting other pubs - especially the ones we can learn something from!