Interviews

Growing pains bring confidence gains in my business journey

7 min read

17 November 2016

Expansion through a roll out or hiring new staff is all part of growing a business, but it's brought growing pains for Giles Fry and his business Snug Bars.

We are 48 hours away from opening our ninth site. This one has been a long-time coming and everyone in the business has had to put in that extra effort to get us to this position – but has created some growing pains.

I started the business 11 years ago, having learnt my trade working for TGI Fridays and Coffee Republic. Whitbread taught me about the impact people have on guests and about how robust systems enhance efficient business models.

My first site for The Snug was located in Cambridge (Lensfield Road ) and still trades today. It started with a £38,000 bank loan and a team of six people. We did everything from painting and decorating to training the team how to cook our food and pour our cocktails.

Fast forward to this week and our total head count in the business is 158 and we have contractors on site in Bury St Edmunds completing a £200,000 cap-ex project. It’s been a dramatic change to what has always been a very simple cocktail bar business, but our values have never changed, in so far as we have built the business around it’s people. It can sound a bit cliché, but when you add up the total investment in both time and money, it’s a very serious set of values to live by day to day.

The new team at Bury St Edmunds were hired almost two months ago and are sitting their final cocktail and food tests at the end of an intensive four-week training period. Of course the training doesn’t end there, as every team member will have a personal development plan to see their training step up to the next level after targets have been set.

The growth of the business started some two years ago, when we decided to review our strategy and really look at what was needed to expand the business in a sustainable and practical way. The process involved making some support office appointments in areas such as recruitment manager and facilities management, as well as securing the services of a newly appointed operations director. With this structure in place it was time to communicate our strategy and more importantly our values, out to the people who had been working with us over the years. The key people in the business had also been responsible for creating our values, which are supportive, nurturing, united and genuine. This platform gave us the strength to then look at opening  up to four sites a year.

Locating sites is always a difficult process with growing pains. It involves lots of leads, driving around, walking streets, talking to agents, dealing with leaseholders and generally sifting the facts and truth from the dark murky world of property. It involves every emotion and can either make or break your week. So when a great site comes up and the deal is right, you have to strike out and secure the site. In my case and a little bit like the proverbial buses, I managed to secure three sites in a four-week period. No problem.

One reason why I was not daunted by this trio of sites, is that I had planned for this and put the structure in place. The timing wasn’t great, but we just had to put a plan in place and work the plan. If the structure had not been in place, then the decision to take on all three sites in quick succession would not have been possible.

The support team have all stepped up to deliver their part of the plan in a superb way. Kaylee, who has been with me for six years, is in charge of our marketing. Last year she was running our fantastic bar in Cambridge, Grafton, and showed all the signs of creativity and detail that I love about her. Karl, is our commercial manager and has run our sites in Hertford, Hitchin and High Wycombe prior to doing this role. He’s been with us for six years and shows why my business is built around its people.

So four weeks ago, the new hires were none the wiser to what Snug Bars are all about. They came in for their interviews, talked to us, built a relationship and showed us a glimpse of their character. Now they are completing their ninth training module on hot drinks and sharing cocktails. They have learnt over 140 cocktails, free pour to within a quarter of an ounce and can talk about rum and gin in a way that they would have not dreamt of before. Now that the formal training is coming to an end and the anticipation of serving their first guest is becoming a daunting reality, they still remain confident. Our training has given them the confidence and their characters are also allowing them to be themselves. It’s great to watch and is the single greatest thing that still puts a smile on my face – even after the growing pains.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.