Real Life Stories: Creating A Lifestyle Business In A Kent Pub

running a pub, lifestyle business,
Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Wed, 21/12/2016 - 10:00

Nigel Williams and his partner Andrea run The Bell Inn at Bearsted in Kent. They took on the Bell just over two years ago and have turned it into a thriving community pub.

We wanted to find out a bit more about Nigel and Andrea, what made them decide to run a pub, what skills and experience did they bring to the job, and whether it’s giving them the lifestyle they hoped for?

If you’re thinking about running a pub, this post will give you some insight into the kind of people who are creating amazing lifestyle businesses around a pub.

A Pub Background Is Not Necessary

Nigel had always dreamed of having a pub, but he didn’t get into the trade until his 40s. Instead he joined the Armed Forces when he left school, “I was a bit of a scallywag, and I needed to sharpen my pencil. For me it was great, it gave me great discipline and strength.”

After his time in the Army he moved into retail working for a number of well-known brands and gaining a huge amount of experience in selling and customer service. He’s also been in management and these skills, along with his natural ability to talk to everyone, have all helped him at the Bell.

Nigel says, “I realised I’m really good at making money for other people, and thought it would be really great to make money for me and my family.”

Andrea on the other hand did not have any aspirations to run a pub. In fact she wasn’t really into the whole pub culture before. She works in social services in London, and commutes everyday. Nigel says:

“When we first had the pub, that first year, Andrea hated it. She thought it was the biggest, wrong decision ever; it’s a cultural thing. She’s a prime example of someone who’s never been in a pub, never known the pub environment, couldn’t quite get her head around it. After that first year, it all changed, she thought ‘now I get it.’”

Now in the evenings and at weekends she’s often behind the bar and in future Andrea plans to leave her job to work with Nigel running a couple more pubs.

For the time being Nigel thinks they’ve got a great balance, with him heading up the Bell and Andrea having her own career. He says, “For us this has worked out very well. Andrea has her part of her life; her work is massively important and very complex. I have the pub, she comes home, and she dips into the pub and is very much involved in it as well. But she has something else to talk about, I have something to talk about, so I think it works really, really well.”

Personality, Skills and Drive

Coming from a retail and management background Nigel was able to bring transferrable skills to his pub. But personality is also a big part of being a successful landlord.

First off, Nigel says he’s definitely a ‘people person’ but also he thinks landlords need to be a bit of a ‘chameleon’:

“So many different people come to your pub. You need to be able to relate to the person who’s older, someone who’s younger, someone who’s a bit of a troublesome character that’s going to be a bit colourful and you need to be able to bring them into line. Especially in a bar where we’ve got a lot more ladies coming in, you’ve got to be able control some of the colourful language but in a good way so people will still stay.”

Nigel describes his ethos as being a ‘big character’ who’s there to entertain and allow customers to enjoy themselves and have a good time in his pub; but without spoiling other people’s enjoyment. He says, “I’m always down here, I’m always talking to customers not matter who they are - I’m a bit nosey by heart.”

He tells a story about screening the football one day, and making it clear to the football fans that he wouldn’t tolerate any ‘effing or jeffing’. He says that he could tell how difficult it was for them to stop swearing and shouting at the screen:

“Fair play to the guys who came in, they lasted the first half. It was so much for them they couldn’t handle it and had to go into to town to watch it because they wanted to scream and shout!”

Nigel says one of the most important lessons he learnt from his years in retail was to ‘keep it basic’ and focus on 3 key things:

  1. Presentation
  2. Stock
  3. Pricing

He says, “They are three very, very simple little things, and if you focus on those three things you’re not going to be a million miles off it. Keep to the basics, ‘does the place look good?’ ‘Have we got the right product?’ ‘Is it at the right price?’”

It is very clear that Nigel is extremely determined. He likes to have a project and a clear plan, and he makes things happen. He’s also very organised, planning all his events for the year in advance, such as booking bands for live music, and setting dates for hog roasts and beer festivals.

Family Life In A Pub

Nigel and Andrea have 5 children between them; the youngest is 16 and the oldest 23. While you couldn’t really say Nigel and Andrea are ‘empty nesters’ they’re getting pretty close with their children beginning to make their own lives.

The youngest actually works in the family business. She has joined the Greene King Apprenticeship Scheme and is working towards the Advanced (L3) qualifications.

Location was always an important factor in Nigel and Andrea’s decision to take on a pub, and they were keen to stay in the same area they lived. This has meant that for the children and Andrea’s commute to work, nothing much has changed. They still attend the same schools and Andrea can catch the same train.

Fortunately for Nigel the pub lifestyle that he loves so much, has rubbed off on the rest of the family!

Creating A Lifestyle That Works

One of the great things about running your own pub is that you can introduce things that you enjoy into the business. In Nigel’s case this includes live music and good, classic food.

Nigel says, “I like my live music” so during the week the pub is a nice calm environment and then Friday is ‘Band Night’ and you can’t move inside the pub as it’s so packed! Surprisingly it also complements another interest of Nigel’s, great pub food.

Although you might expect people to steer clear if they want a meal on band night, many customers make a special effort to book a table for food and listen to the band.

“People think ‘live music on Friday, it’s like sardines in the bar, let’s book a table and stay there all night’ which is what I allow them to do. Everyone knows we do it now, there’s no surprises. We tell them when they book that we do live music and is that OK. But most people who ring up for a Friday, want the live music as well.”

On the subject of food, Nigel loves the food that classically trained chefs do, so that’s who he’s got working in the kitchen. Nigel says, “What Jason has done is brought classically trained skills to pub food, he finds the best ingredients possible and produces good British pub food.”

Future Plans

Nigel and Andrea have a few more things they want to do at the Bell, and then they’ll be looking for a new project. The plan for the future is to run 3 pubs, with Andrea leaving her job so they can focus on managing the business together. Watch this space, they are definitely going places!

We asked Nigel for his advice for anyone thinking about running a pub. He said:

“Be realistic. Running a pub isn’t always going to make you a wealthy person it’s a lifestyle. People coming into pubs have got to realise it’s an all in club, it will absorb you, you need to be aware that your life is almost on show for everyone, you’ve got to always have that happy smile for everyone. It isn't all good but it can be the most fun thing you could ever do.”

If you have been inspired by Nigel and Andrea’s story, why not attend one of our Open Days to find out more about running a pub with Greene King. They’re free and a great opportunity to explore whether you’ve got what it takes to run a successful pub business.

Click here to find out when the next Open Day is near you.