On 27 January 2015, Piper brought together leading figures from Britain’s most dynamic bar and restaurant operators to discuss the challenges facing the hospitality sector.
The speaker was Alex Reilley, co-founder and executive vice chairman of bar and restaurant group Loungers. Founded in Bristol in 2002, Loungers pioneered and developed the ‘Lounge’ neighbourhood café/bar concept, alongside the growth of its Cosy Club bar and dining rooms. Since Piper invested in the business in 2012, Loungers has expanded from 22 to 57 sites nationwide and won numerous industry accolades.
Reilley gave a frank and entertaining account of the lessons he has picked up along the way. Entitled ‘Five Things I Wish I’d Known When We Started,’ he began by recognising the importance of people. Lots of them. ‘You’ll need more people than you can possibly imagine,’ he said. ‘Plus a big office.’
Loungers now employs more than 1,500 staff and has its own large purpose-built headquarters – a far cry from the days when Alex and co-founders Jake Bishop and Dave Reid shared a desk on the lower deck of a boat. But not everyone wants to stay on the journey. ‘The second thing on my list is knowing that people may want to get off the bus,’ said Reilley. Some will have different aspirations, others may find it difficult to manage their roles as a business scales.
His third tip was: ‘Accepting you’ll shed lots of skin.’ He explained how the obsessive nature of founders often results in them continuing to perform tasks that can and should easily be done by others. ‘As you grow a business, you should be bringing in people who are experts in their roles – better than you could ever be. So you need to let them get on with it and allow your own role to evolve.’
Reilley also acknowledged that ‘being good to all your partners’ was key to successful growth. ‘From suppliers through to banks and investors, it doesn’t hurt to treat them well and let them know you really value what they’re bringing you.’ Maintaining good relations will reap both short and long-term benefits.
Finally, and arguably Reilley’s biggest lesson was: ‘knowing that you’ll be forking out more than £100,000 on your staff party. That’s how much we’ll be spending this year!’ Admittedly, the Loungers’ staff party involves more than cold sausage rolls in an upstairs pub room – last year’s jamboree, called LoungeFest, was a day long festival in a field in Gloucestershire – but his point was clear: ‘As you get bigger and more professional, don’t begin to lose your identity. Always remember why you started the business in the first place.’