Andy Coleman MBII has many plates to spin. With three bars, a coffee shop, an events company and a multimedia offering all operating under The House Group brand, even in what should be the quieter month of January, he’s as busy and as focused as ever.
Positivity rings from Andy’s voice as he jokes “drinking a lot!” is his secret to survival. “We’ve just had our debrief after the madness of December,” he explains as the team emerge hot from their management meeting. “We’re finalising menus that come out early in February – there’s no point in bringing out a new menu in sleepy January – and we have decorators in to re-sand the floors and paint the walls”.
After an exceptional Christmas, a whopping 70% of British consumers visit pubs and restaurants over the festive period, Andy and his senior management team make sure staff are feeling revitalised after high pressures!
“We find that everyone comes back to work with a different mind-set in January – new year, new me sort of thing, people do a bit of soul searching and we try and help them with it”, he says.
“January is a good time for our bi-annual appraisals. We sit with staff and ask them what they want to achieve in the coming year. If we can help with anything, whether it’s to start saving to buy a house, or go travelling, we will put together a plan of action”.
Keeping staff morale up throughout the year is important for Andy. “We love giving everyone a boost and we put on some pretty cool staff ‘dos. This month, we’re organising an Olympic event. We’ll create five teams, each representing a different country, and get them to come along in fancy dress.”
Last summer, they held an awards night with ‘Oscars’ style graphics on a big screen. “We gave awards to the top 10 staff we felt deserved recognition. These incentives and celebrations strengthen the team who stay loyal to us as a result. Our staff retention is twice the industry average!”
Andy likes to employ a lot of humour to keep spirits high and employees fully engaged. A good example is a heading on The House Group’s website, ‘The Unicorn Effect’.
He laughs: “It’s something I just came up with to encourage positivity and spread motivation within the team. If you need to get from A to B, you could go via donkey, horse or unicorn. Which would you choose? It’ll be a rough ride with a donkey, a horse will be more efficient, or you could go on a unicorn and fly there!”
New starters to the business are briefed on ‘The Unicorn Effect’, which encourages them to grow from foals to fully fledged mystical beings. “I don’t want to send out a boring email saying ‘you must work harder’ or ‘be more efficient’. Fun can’t be the afterthought. I use the metaphor as a light hearted way of encouraging people to achieve their best!”
Having built a strong team around him, Andy has had to learn to give over the reins.
“When I had my first pub, I was 21 and I was just running around like a headless chicken. I was doing everything, from cleaning the beer lines, to running the business, working 12 hour days, 7 days a week”. But hiring his first manager, after he started The Cork House, Andy soon realised how much time he could gain back, which he could use to develop the business further.
Having set up his own multimedia company three years ago, which does everything from menus, photography and graphics for The House Group. ‘Capture House’, as it’s called, was founded when Andy met Jordan Bright, the photographer hired to take promotional pictures of the bars.
“We started Capture together and it has gone crazy, we find clients really easily because of the hospitality crossover. We just did a shoot for Subway and Britvic; things really started to take off when we landed our campaign for Feast Box, a recipe delivery company. They needed someone to make the food and take pictures – they found us with three bars and our chefs at their disposal”.
Inspiration comes from industry trade shows, but picking things up from other businesses is also a great way to research new ideas.
“What takes big companies a year to organise and get ready, I can do in a week! That’s the key to it, we call it ‘duck and weave’, you need to adapt as you see trends in other venues, run with it and roll it out”.
The House Group uses Instagram as a tool to strengthen this trend agility. As well as following other venues on social media, Andy also knows to make his own bars snapshot ready.
“Instagram really makes you up your game with visuals, everything needs to be worthy of a shot now. If you’re doing a sharing board or a cocktail tree, you start realising that people are buying these things to take pictures of them”.
With his target market aged between mid-20s to mid-40s, over 50% of whom regularly use Instagram, with 79% favouring Facebook* he’s onto a winner.
“We call them the babysitter age! A lot of our customers have young families, and we find that when parents go out, they want to make the most of their time spent as a couple or with friends. That demographic sits well with all our venues, perhaps we should run a babysitting business too”. The Uber of babysitting apps must be around the corner.
A businessman with so much under his belt, well before his fortieth birthday, must have had his sights set on building an empire from the beginning. “No! I work hard, I work really hard, but I have to be really proactive when things go wrong. When you don’t have a plan B, you have to set yourself goals and always be ready for new opportunities”.
Andy uses the same dynamic energy to draw customers to his venues, as he does staff to work with him, and after a visit it would be very easy to leave The House Group having grown your very own unicorn horn. Failing that, you’ll feel like you’re flying home, flicking through your “insta-snaps”, after an all round great experience.
* Statistics from Sprout social
What do you do to unwind?
“I go to the gym every morning. My alarm goes off at 5:15am and I’m in the gym for 6am. It’s how I give myself some headspace. I also recently treated myself to a hot tub for my birthday – it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I think they should be on the NHS! Come 10pm, the kids are in bed, I get into the hot tub and it melts everything away! Everything is quiet and I make sure my phone’s nowhere near.”
What would your advice be to licensees looking to boost their business?
“The key is to keep your eyes open and be self-aware. We go to a lot of trade shows. There can be over 300 stands there, but you need to pick out the 12 that are really going to be of use to you. But to be honest, going out is probably the best way to find new, great ideas. It gives you a feel for what’s cool and you can experience things from the perspective of a customer. I’d also say follow other places on Instagram or Facebook, it’s a really easy way of seeing what trends are coming from the bigger cities.”
How has being a BII member helped your business?
“I’ve been a member for 15 years, since I had my first pub. My dad bought the first years’ membership for me - he firmly believed you needed to be part of a professional membership body, whatever industry you are in.
The bit I find so handy is the legal helpline - it’s the best. I’ve used it so often because the more people you employ, the more issues pop up! After a ten minute phone call you’re so much wiser. You don’t even have to wait in a queue on the phone. They’re so good, and they’re run by experts who are immersed in the industry and know exactly what you need to do and how you need to do it.”