Business Development Managers – How They Help Pub Licensees Succeed

business development, pub, pub business
Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Mon, 21/08/2017 - 10:00

The role of a Business Development Manager (BDM) in the pub industry has changed significantly in recent years. In fact so much so that Nick Lawson, one of Greene King’s BDMs, thinks that his 2006 entry application for the ALMR Operations Managers Awards wouldn’t pass muster in 2017.

Last year Nick and Paul Wishart, BDM for Lanarkshire and Midlothian in Scotland, were both nominated for an ALMR award. We caught up with them to find out more about the role of a Business Development Manager in the pub industry, and what difference they make to the business partners (licensees) they look after.

Our Business Development Managers Are The Best

The ALMR Operations Managers Awards were launched in 1996 as a way of rewarded and celebrating the industry’s top Area Managers and Business Development Managers. Greene King are proud to have had many past winners over the last 20 years; most recently our Scottish BDM Paul Wishart in 2016, who was closely followed by Nick Lawson as runner up.

Many people are not aware of what an important role Business Development Managers play. While once the BDM role was focussed on collecting rents and trouble-shooting problem pubs, now the role has become much more about business support and mentorship: providing licensees with their own business consultant who has expert industry knowledge and experience to share.

The ALMR awards provide a benchmark for excellence. Getting shortlisted as a finalist is no mean feat. Potential winners are selected based on an entry paper - the one Nick refers to above - reducing the candidates to just 20, followed by personal profiling, field visits, and the final judging.

However, the awards also have a focus on personal professional development with candidates receiving mentoring during and after the process, and a MasterClass to build their skills and gain top-level insights into the industry.

Expert Pub Industry Business Support

If you’re now thinking “what good is that to me?”, all this coaching and learning has a direct impact on licensees who benefit from truly excellent business support from people who really understand the industry.

As Paul Wishart says, “The positioning of what the BDM role is in today’s market versus what is was when I became a BDM 10 years ago is very, very different. The old school perception is ‘make sure the rent’s paid’, ‘make sure they’re buying their beer’, ‘make sure if there’s a machine share you’re maximising that’ and ‘we may do a bit of investment once in a while.’ That’s completely changed, we have to be more invested in the whole business now, you need to help your partners manage all of the different aspects of the business – beer, food, coffee, spirits, wines, cocktails, etc. – helping them to identify where the business sits within the market.

“In the past, the view was more that pub tenants should get on with all of this by themselves, and might even be offended by our interference. But we have experience, that’s why we are in the job, and if you can demonstrate that you have that experience early on, our licensees actually think the opposite. They’ll be on the phone asking for advice, they understand that you have valuable knowledge to share.”

Don’t worry if your BDM hasn’t been nominated for an award before. At Greene King our BDMs take a collaborative approach where they work together and share their knowledge and experience. Having one or two candidates in the ALMR awards, let alone a winner, has a positive impact on everyone in the business and especially our licensees.

Nick Lawson, BDM for Southern England, says, “I’ve been in the industry for about 25 years and the quality of the BDMs has gone up massively, and it has had to because the quality of the operator (licensee) is immense, light years ahead of what it was. The market has shifted, it’s not just about pulling a pint now it’s about innovation, it’s about food, and it’s about premiumisation. You have to go where the market’s going, and if you don’t get up there or ahead of the market your business is going to slowly die.

“The role demands that the BDM is more skilled in a number of areas, it’s all about understanding people’s businesses, where they sit in the market, and what they have to do to make money and stay ahead of the market. I think this role is much more of a business consultancy role, a personal business consultant but one that has a very in depth understanding of the market, dynamics, trends etc. The majority of operators expect their BDM or Area Manager to have that level of skill and knowledge.”

Working With Pub Licensees

Another popular misconception that people have about the role of Business Development Manager is that they focus most of their time working with licensees who are struggling, or with failing pubs. However, Paul and Nick say that they spend just as much time with their Business Partners who are doing well, as those that are finding it tough.

Nick says, “It’s about sharing ideas. I pick up ideas from licensees, they pick up ideas from us. There has to be a little bit of vulnerability, people need to be prepared to say ‘I don’t know that, have you got any ideas’ and get the support they need.”

Often there will be ideas that are working well in successful pub businesses that could be applied to those that aren’t doing so well. The BDM can therefore be a sounding board for new ideas, provide expert business advice based on their hands-on experience, and practical help for licensees to develop and improve their businesses.

The BDMs role aligns Greene King’s business objectives with the unique proposition each pub offers, and the business objectives of the pub operator. This relationship is built on trust and transparency. Paul says, “The most important thing about being a BDM is the relationship with your tenants, and being authentic and being honest.

“I’m always trying to be more authentic about the way I do things, I think that if you are honest and straight you get a better response from people. People instinctively know that you’ve got their best interests at heart, as well as the company you work for. It’s hugely important.”

As successful and award winning BDMs, Paul and Nick are at the forefront of the seismic changes the pub industry has seen in recent years. The pub tenancy and pub lease business model has moved away from the wet-led and value end of the market, and is more focused on a premium pub offer including premium beers, spirits, wines and cocktails, craft products such as craft lager and ale, food, and products that are unique to the pub. As such Business Development Managers have a vital part to play in supporting licensees in this highly competitive and innovative market.

We asked both BDMs how they defined success, and what they find rewarding about their roles:

Paul: “If I was to summarise it as a picture, it would be sitting in a lovely invested pub - the atmosphere is great, lots and lots of customers in having some food or trying nice craft beers, wine or drinking cocktails, really well trained staff - and I’m sitting talking to the partners who we’ve just launched this business with, and we’re all smiling and happy because everything’s great. If I was to draw what job satisfaction or reward would look like, that’s what it would be.”

Nick: “My rewards come from turning a failing business, in a market which has great dynamics, into a thriving business. There was a pub in Chichester that was a wet-led sports venue, very male dominated – not somewhere I would take my wife for a meal. It’s now got one of our great multiple operators running it with locally sourced coffee roasted on the premises, premium gins, a really good food offer and from a site that was doing around £10-11 k per week, it’s now doing £20K+.

“While this pub required investment from both Greene King and the operator, you don’t have to invest to turn a place around. It’s about the operator. If you can recruit an entrepreneur, someone dynamic who can see what the pub needs, that’s as good as spending £300,000 on the site.

“When you see successes from what were failing or stagnant and stale businesses, and you then see a vibrant successful business; that’s what puts a smile on my face and that’s why I get up in the morning and go to work!”