Licensee of the Year
Kelly Rose Bradford caught up with Richard and Loren Pope from The Bull’s Head, Repton, Derbyshire to find out how they managed to reach the pinnacle of their industry
In 2007, after 22 years of working for large corporations within the licensed trade, Richard Pope and his wife Loren bought a 10-year lease for The Bull’s Head public house from Punch Taverns. The pub had lain derelict for two and a half years, but following the Popes’ leasing, and with a £600,000 investment, it re-opened to the public in May 2007, offering a ground floor pub and first floor restaurant.
In August 2009, the Popes purchased the freehold and further expanded the business. Earlier this year, the couple’s hard work was recognised by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) with the organisation’s Licensee of the Year award.
“Being crowned BII Licensee of the Year is probably the most prestigious accolade available in the on trade,” says Neil Robertson, BII chief executive. “Richard and Loren proved that they are at the top of their game, and with the challenging circumstances the industry faces, it’s a very difficult game to be at the top of. Our winners proved to the judges that they are switched on, business-savvy, remarkable publicans who know how to run a fantastic business that is really in tune with its customers and delivers on all levels.”
The modest, but fiercely driven Richard Pope believes that his background has helped him to understand what makes a business successful. “I’ve worked as a marketing manager for a restaurant chain, commercial manager for a pub group, and have been a consultant and trainer to the licensed trade, so I came into the business with my eyes open,” says Richard.
Richard acknowledges that staff turnover is generally high in the pub and catering trade, yet he strives to retain staff by offering ongoing training via a structured training plan and enabling people to extend their skills.
“Chefs in particular are notorious for moving on, but we’ve gradually managed to pull a team together that is exceptionally strong; we have people working for us who were here three years ago,” says Richard proudly. “Training is so important; we’ve recently put every member of the team through hygiene training, and I’m developing a system that will enable us to upload training modules to our website, so our employees can go through them and complete a quiz at the end to test their recall.”
Richard is passionate about business development, and is constantly striving to maximise the pub’s potential.
“The business has progressed a lot over three years, and even more so in the six months since we’ve had the freehold,” says Richard. “We’ve invested in the fabric of the building – doing aesthetic stuff like putting down paving and turning a derelict piece of land into a terrace. Not only is it stunning to look at, but it’s another 80 covers, taking our outdoor eating area to 170.
“We’ve done practical things too – the demand for food was always greater than supply, largely because our first floor kitchen was not big enough to cope, but buying the freehold enabled me to convert a disused room into a second kitchen, where we installed a wood-fired oven and can now cook in front of the customers. The oven is a huge success, the diners love to see their pizzas being cooked for them. There are actually only two of these ovens in the country – the other one is in Jamie Oliver’s back garden.”
Team of superstars
Despite his obvious business acumen and marketing background, Richard sees the success of The Bull’s Head as a joint effort between himself, Loren and his dedicated staff.
“Winning the Licensee of the Year Award was amazing,” laughs Richard. “It was a long process, lots of form filling, visits from the judges, a panel interview in London. Then the short-list of six was invited to a luncheon at the Grosvenor Hotel where the winner was announced. Loren and I were always hopeful but, to be honest, we’d earmarked another couple for the win. But none of it is just about us – the success of the Bull’s Head is us and our staff – it’s a real team effort.
“We are open noon to midnight, seven days a week, and I work every day, but we have a unique proposition here that is delivered by a team of superstars. We have over 60 people working for us. For front of house, we recruit on personality rather than experience – after all, we can teach them how to pull a pint and collect plates, but we can’t do anything about non-existent personality.”
“When Loren and I first took over, it was crucial to us to become a central part of the community, and I think we’ve achieved that,” says Richard. “We’ve done wedding parties, funeral buffets, everything. We like to think we’re the kind of place where you can come with the children on a Wednesday evening if you can’t be bothered to cook, or just pop in to relax with a glass of wine.
“We’ve done well here because we are catering for broader markets than most of our local competition. There is another pub down the road that does not do food, so they cater only for drink-based occasions. There’s a restaurant nearby that is always full at the weekend but less so at the beginning of the week, simply because they are only catering for food-based occasions. We cater for everyone and every occasion – from a quick pint after work through to a special foodie night out. Some people come specifically for our range of local beers, and yes, they pay a little more for them, but they are paying for the choice. We sell more real ale than lager, which is a good indicator of the type of trade we get; most pubs sell more lager than real ales.”
Unique selling point
“I think if other people wanted to emulate our success, they’d need to ask themselves: do we want to be cheaper than the competition or better?” advises Richard. “If you are going to pursue a cost-based strategy – cheap food and cheap drink, then you have to continuously attract a lot of volume in order to make money. If you can’t be cheaper, you have to be better. It’s as simple as that.
“It’s no good being an average pub with an average product range. It will not stand out in the crowd. Overall, what we offer is based on informal quality and that does not appeal to anyone who is price sensitive. If you want ‘discounted’ food or beer, then we’re not the right choice; however, if you want quality in fabulous surroundings and with a stunning atmosphere, then we are definitely the place to visit.”
The Bull’s Head, 84 High Street, Repton, Derbyshire DE65 6GF
Tel: 01283 704422
Open daily, from noon until midnight.