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Conor Kenny of Conor Kenny & Associates, consultants in design and trading solutions for the licensed trade, offers 10 pointers on managing your business more effectively.

Know where you are going: Many years ago I worked for a grand old gentleman. In his office, a wonderfully mahogany paneled room, was a fading print that had little artistic merit. The image was of a man astride his camel perched high on a sand dune in a bleak desert landscape. The rider was gazing in a perplexed sort of way and looked lost. My boss, aware that I was looking at the picture, asked me what I thought. Afraid to be impolite I replied "interesting". He laughed. "You see Conor it’s an ugly painting but that man up there is just like all of us in business – "Where the hell am I going next".

There is one absolute certainty: no magic solution exists for you pub, club, restaurant or hotel. If that were so, the custodian of that recipe would already have retired in riches. Instead, the solutions to your problems are unique, diverse, fragmented and driven by your particular needs, your specific requirements – and your budget.

However, before you arrive at a solution you must break down and understand the problem. Again, it’s important that you break down your problem first, not just create an opportunity for any one supplier to convince that buying his product or service will give you the keys to the kingdom.

Another reality – your performance or under-performance as a business will be a combination of several factors that require understanding, not just one problem requiring one solution. Every business has a unique set of ingredients and characteristics.

10 ways of keeping your business ahead

1. Examine your business level

So where do you begin? Firstly, you’ll know how well your business is doing – is it increasing, decreasing or standing still? The answer to this will tell you if you need help. If you do, you’ll need an external pair of eyes that will look at your business with you, for you and at a budget that suits you.

2.  Know the real owners

Secondly, visualize your outlet as no longer yours. It has been taken over and you didn’t even know it. For your pub, hotel or club is not actually "yours" it belongs to those investors known as customers. They vote to keep you in business (or not). They vote on your salary (or lack of it). They allow you holidays (or none). Therefore, any decision you make on that new sound system, design or menu can be rejected by your customers. The decisions you take will only succeed if they are of benefit to your customers and they vote accordingly.

3. Know what’s happening

Thirdly, you must understand how the world is changing and how this affect you, your customers and your business. For example people have travelled more. Budget airlines made travel cheaper and more accessible. So people have been exposed to different cultures and their tastes are more sophisticated. In my youth "pub food" was an apologetic half-damp microwaved burger.

Today’s enlightened youth would have an interesting view on such an offer. People work harder than ever and earn more so they deserve "indulgence" – and they can afford it. People are more health conscious. They go to the gym more. That means you’re competing with the gym (and the waistline vanity).

4 Be prepared, be flexible

Fourthly, you must be flexible. Once your doors open you must sell, sell, sell. If you don’t, why open? Again, budget airlines are a terrific example of how to extract every penny from customers. First they offer a great price on a seat that was going to be empty anyway. Then they sell the customer insurance followed by car hire and a hotel. On board the sell coffee, sandwiches, drinks, perfume and gifts. Not that many years ago a petrol sold two things, petrol and oil. An elderly man in a blackened boiler suit with grisly hands sidled up to your window and said "How much"? Today, you fill your own car, get the milk, flowers, fresh bread, sweets for the kids and pay for the petrol on the way out. Your business needs to evolve in just the same way.

5 Avoid being fashionable

The beauty of fashion is that it’s always new, exciting and full of expectation. What nobody tells you is that it dates very quickly. Your next-door neighbour will have it too and it will only be good until the next thing comes along. Avoid concepts, designs or themes that are fashion – or personality-linked. They may die overnight and if not properly executed, will have no shelf life worth talking about. Imagine a bar , pub or club that built it’s theme around the latest high-profile celebrity. Suddenly our celebrity is revealed to be under arrest for a serious crime – bang! End of successful theme. Therefore successful concepts will have real roots, real heritage and will be anchored in good, honest and practical design.

6 Stand out

Life can be strange and not a little contradictory. We are all unique: we are all different yet we spend most of our lives conforming to the so called ‘norm’. Every day we’re subconsciously being told what to do, how to behave, what not to do, where to go etc For better or worse it encourages compliance, the middle ground and limits imagination and the expression of uniqueness. The high street has become very much this grey neutral norm. For you and your business, the trick is to delight and excite your customers. How? Be different. Create imaginative offers, entertain and market. Whatever you do, ensure that your offer is the most interesting, innovative and rewarding. Remember it’s the non-conformists who stand out.

7 Make suppliers work for you

At the gates to the boarding school I attended was a little shop. The majority of the goods were there for the benefit of the students. The store was run by Monty O’Brien and although he was bad value he was well located. Some bright young wag created the slogan ‘ Less for more at Monty’s store’. Alas many suppliers can be like that: opportunist, mercenary and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Your need to make your suppliers work for you, not against you. They need to be your strategic partners, not the enemy. After all, both of you need each other.

8 Stick to your budget, not theirs

Before you spend money on anything, know what it’s for. After all, it’s your budget, not the supplier’s. Above all, seek out measures and guarantees that will allow you to justify the expense. There is no one single solution that will turn your business around. The answer will not be a fabulous new design or refurbishment. It will not just be that great new homemade hamburger or your new sound system. It will be a combination of everything and therefore your budget needs to be carefully divided and spent on a range of things that will have a real impact on your business. Remember an expensive, singular solution will not necessary be the answer to your difficulties. And beware of costly proposals that might not be right for you. Often, through objective external eyes, the solutions can be considerably less than you thought.

9 Sell me your business

Any business needs to be properly packaged and sold. A client of mine once said that any successful operator should spend a least 30 per cent of his/her time out in the marketplace selling and networking. In a hugely competitive and tightening market you need to explore, debate and create a vibrant, energetic sales and marketing plan that will target and lure the customers you want. You will need to know what your customer’s want, how they behave and what is influencing them in today’s high-pressured world. In simple terms you need to change from being reactive to being proactive. Having got them in, now you must keep them and learn how to maximize your sales to them. To do this you need to train them, motivate them, reward them and get them involved. After all they are your singular most important asset.

10 Continually seek advice

Business is constantly changing and constantly challenged. Successful businesses, successful proprietors and successful operators are forever trawling the markets seeking out new ideas. They have a passion for staying ahead and a passion to be the best always. In any industry, keeping abreast of developments and trends is not easy. As markets, people and products continue to segment and become more niche, as the leisure and hospitality industries face new challenges, there’s less room for error and less rook to make the wrong decision.
This article was published in Drinks Industry Ireland, November 2002.

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