Real Life Stories: A New Addition To A Family Business

pub to let, lease a pub, Fox Inn Farnham
Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Mon, 05/06/2017 - 10:00

The Fox Inn near Farnham Surrey, is a 15th Century pub in the village of Lower Bourne. In October 2016 the lease was taken on by a family business – Marshall Eaton – and the pub was refurbished. We caught up with Director Matt Eaton, his mother Pam Eaton, and Head of Pub Operations, Rob Marshall, to find out how the business is going.

Unlike many pub landlords who are sole traders running their pubs as their only business concern, Matt, Pam, Rob and other family members own an established company. Marshall Eaton Holdings includes a property development company, a construction firm, a consultancy side and a retail arm, which includes two estate agents. The Fox forms part of newly formed Marshall Eaton Leisure.

We were interested to find out why this family business have moved into the pub trade, and what their vision is for the pub and the business overall.

Growing Up In Pubs

Pam Eaton, who fills an advisory role at Marshall Eaton and is also mother to Matt, his brother Nick, and sister Lucy says, “We’ve had three pubs over the years, from the time Matt was about 2 years old. We ended up running a pub in this area until the children left school, and then took a break.”

Matt says, “We’ve all grown up in it, I moved on and went to work for Wetherspoon and then I went into the retail sector and worked for Phones 4u and later for a fashion retailer in Saudi Arabia.

“But the difference now between when my mum and dad had a pub, which was a family business and more like a lifestyle, is that now you’ve got to treat it [the pub trade] as a proper retail business.”

So having moved away from hospitality when the Eaton siblings left home, what made the family decide to get back into it and take on the lease at the Fox?

“Simon [Marshall, Matt’s brother-in-law and CEO of Marshall Eaton] always joked that he wanted a pub and used to say ‘one of these days I’ll have to buy this pub’. It’s our local pub. Then we heard that the lease was up for sale so we raised some enquires straightaway and moved really quickly on it.“

Having taken on their local pub, Marshall Eaton have refurbished the pub extensively (with the support of the construction side of the business) and all the family have been involved.

Matt says, “all the members of the family had their own ideas about what they wanted the pub to look like. My brother Nick is involved in the construction side so he’s been involved in the design, planning and refurbishment of the pub. Nick’s wife and my wife have done the interior design, they came up with all the colour schemes for the pub.

“Simon is the visionary, and drives our high standards. He also had the idea to create a private dining area with a snug called the Fox’s Den.”

One of the advantages of having an established company is that many of the functions needed to run a business (HR, IT, marketing etc.) are already in place. Marshall Eaton Leisure has been able to access this support through the parent company. Matt explains:

“We’ve got a head office support function here in Farnham. For example we have an HR Director, who’s my wife, one of my best friends who I’ve worked with for years is our Financial Director, IT Director and legal person, and my sister’s involved in marketing and training.

“Not many publicans have this level of support, and this makes our approach different.”

Many pub landlords run lifestyle businesses; living above the pub, working as a sole trader with the support of casual staff, and usually earning a good living while enjoying the lifestyle a pub business can offer. The Marshall / Eaton family have taken a very different approach.

The Fox Inn Business Model

The family all live in the local area and while the refurbishment and new style reflects the type of pub they want to run and use, they have no aspirations to be permanently behind the bar. Matt and Rob are currently focused on developing the business model and pushing through their plans for the pub, but ultimately they are looking to have a number of pubs in similar locations under the Marshall Eaton Leisure banner.

The Fox Inn is the first pub in this larger plan, and all the work and investment they are currently ploughing into the pub will help them develop and refine the business model. Rob says:

“At this moment in time two assistant managers, myself and Matt are running the pub. We want this to be the model for when we move forward so we’ll get this pub working absolutely right and then bring a manager in to work within those guidelines. We want to get the model right and get everyone involved working how we want to work.”

Matt says, “Our plan is to open a chain of pubs over the next 10 years, that’s our vision. We’ve seen some pubs; we’re looking for a destination not looking to get into cities or towns.”

The team at the Fox have certainly got the right infrastructure and support in place to scale up this side of the business by taking on more pubs. Many people might think that you need to own the pub freehold to create a viable business model like this, but as you can see from Marshall Eaton’s story leasing a pub is a great way to do it.

Matt, Simon and Nick came to us with a clear vision for The Fox Inn, a robust business plan, financial investment, and drive. Most of all they understood the numbers, the margins and what is required to run a profitable pub and get a return on their investment.

It’s a winning combination and we hope provides some inspiration for anyone who’s interested in leasing a pub. Look out for future blog posts about the Fox and the Marshall Eaton team, we’ll be exploring their business in more detail soon.

Further to our conversation with Matt Eaton about the Fox Inn and plans for the future, the company directors have now brought in Andrew Cordwell to head up Marshall Eaton Leisure and help establish a chain of pubs based on their flagship model. Andrew has extensive experience in the F&B industry working with well known brands such as Pitcher and Piano, Marstons Thompson & Evershed, John Lewis & Waitrose and Toosies. Rob Marshall continues to drive the development of the pub business model at the Fox, with the support of two assistant managers.