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Michael Hales MBII

The Butlers Arms, Pleasington

LOYA 2019 Semi-Finalist, Michael Hales MBII is not a licensee who lets the grass grow under his feet. His went into his first tenancy, the Butlers Arms at Pleasington in 2016 and since then has added the Top Lock at Chorley and, most recently, The Railway in Bolton to the list in 2018, all with Star Pubs & Bars. Molly Davis found out more about each pub, and the team behind Imagine Inns.

The Butlers Arms at Pleasington is a unique venue, with a terrace overlooking a Bowling Green that is home to no less than 6 local teams. Running a community pub, sport and charity are both close to Michael’s heart and most recently he has been recognised by Pub Aid as being a huge contributor on both fronts.

Blokes United, is a local social inclusion support scheme, based around weekly football sessions, offering help to men suffering with mental health problems. After finding out about the work they did, Michael has been an avid supporter ever since, paying for pitch hire & kit as well as food and hot drinks after every session.

“It’s important to me that as a local business we support the community and projects like this where we can. Pubs are places where people connect, and sports teams provide the same support and friendship, so it makes sense that this is somewhere we can give something back.”

This ethos carries through to the Railway in Bolton, where the local cricket team has benefitted from a £1200 kit boost, thanks to Michael and Imagine Inns. These are directly funded from pub profits, but his venues also fundraise for larger equipment and projects with events from time-to-time.

In order to donate money however, you have to make it in the first place, so we wanted to find out more about how his business has gone from strength to strength in such a short amount of time.

For starters, all three pubs clearly look the part, with a strong theme throughout each one. Unique ideas and finishing touches give all the venues clear appeal to certain customer demographics. Michael gets inspiration from all over the place, but particularly from his travels. The recent addition of “cook-your-own” fire pits in the middle of the table at the Butlers Arms have been a hit with parties and guests looking for something different – an idea inspired by a trip to Melbourne, Australia.

Other ideas and initiatives have been the introduction of Carbon free dining – adding £1 optional extra on the bill which goes towards planting trees in developing countries.

Michael attributes his success to having a strong team around him, particularly since expanding the business. He has a GM in every site and 4 key staff at Head Office to help him oversee the whole operation. Matt – his right hand man, makes Michael’s ideas happen and looks after the Marketing for the business. Debs is in charge of Sales and Events whilst Tina and Sue take care of the Accounts.

“We all do a bit of everything though – this morning we were looking at the P&Ls for last month. Live accounting has changed the way we do business. We can spot trends, problems or even good things and react a lot quicker. I recently decided as a thank you to our locals in the Railway, to put £500 behind the bar on a Friday evening. We put some posts out on social media, inviting our regulars down for a drink on the house and the response was phenomenal. It was the best marketing ROI we’ve ever had – but also, everyone felt appreciated as customers, making it a great night.”

Marketing and the forward planning that goes with it is another key element in helping their business flourish. In August, they are planning for January and February – events, offers, menus and how to communicate all of this to their customers. Michael is clear on one thing though.

“Don’t get caught up in looking at what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself – that’s the only person you should be in competition with.”

That was particularly true when Michael opened the Railway, which was a boarded up community pub on the verge of becoming another block of flats when Imagine Inns took it on. Since then, it has been transformed into a sleek, fun local pub, offering a great dining experience and unique ambiance with its specially commissioned artwork pieces taking centre stage.

All three pubs have hosted, weddings, funerals, parties, family fun days and gin festivals in recent months and whilst Michael’s social life largely revolves around the pubs, he takes the time to get away from the business when he can, travelling around the world to get more inspiration.

We can’t wait to see the next chapter in Imagine Inns story…we’re sure it won’t be long!

What would you tell your younger self?

To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about what I have done in the past. I tried my hardest at school and didn’t do great to be honest, but it’s important to try, fail and pick yourself up again. My only advice would be that I should have done it all sooner!

Best advice you could give?

Always say yes, or think positively about an opportunity. When you’re weighing it up, think about how you could make it happen. If it’s not right after you’ve done your research, fine, but never go into something thinking it won’t work…

Top Fact

Was a Chef in the Catskills in NY.

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