Putting their own stamp on it – the atypical pub group behind some of Edinburgh’s best-loved watering holes
An interview with head of sales, PR and marketing Louise Maclean…
It might sound like a cliché but there really is no such thing as a typical day at Signature Pubs. In fact, there’s no such thing as a typical venue for the group either.
There are no one-size-fits-all business models, refurbs or fit-outs to be found here, despite an impressive and rapidly-expanding property portfolio of more than 15 Scottish pubs, which include The Huxley in Edinburgh, Spiritual in Glasgow Merchant City’s trendy up and coming Miller Street, and the WestPort Bar in St Andrews.
Each one of Signature Pubs’ offerings is bespoke, without a hint of stereotypical pub chain or corporate leadership in sight. Each general manager is recruited on his or her own entrepreneurial merits and encouraged to help shape each individual business as much as possible. The laid-back vibe flows right from the top (the top being owners Nic and Garreth Wood) – as more than 300 staff will testify.
But the group isn’t without it’s challenges. New, rival venues are popping up all the time – particularly in Edinburgh – in what is becoming an increasingly ‘noisy’ industry.
With the likes of The Ivy Brasserie and Drake & Morgan set to open in the Capital this year, the competition has never been fiercer – not to mention the ongoing pressure of achieving five-star reviews on social media, the increasing influence of foodie bloggers and review sites which turn every man and his dog into a critic.
As Signature Pubs’ head of sales, PR and marketing will tell you, “You’re only as good as your last burger.”
We caught up with Louise Maclean, who is exactly that – the woman tasked with marketing these 16 unique venues.
Here, the drinks industry expert, who previously spent 20 years working for leading industry names including Tennent Caledonian Brewery, Coors and Diageo, lets us in on what she has in store for 2017 to help keep Signature Pubs stay ahead of the competition.
In her first interview for the group, she tells us why personalised marketing is key this year.
Q: Tell us about your role at Signature Pubs
A: Well, I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years now after spending more than 20 in the drinks industry. I always had a really good relationship with Nic – even though he never bought anything from me, despite my best efforts. I knew that, one day, I wanted to work for Signature Pubs. Then one day I got a call as I was sitting on the beach at Broughty Ferry with my kids asking me to come and work for Nic in this very role.
Q: Signature Pubs had a great 2016 – can you tell us some of the highlights?
A: We have a really successful core business which has been built up over several years and we’re really keen that good opportunities don’t pass us by. In 2016, a lot of things fell into place for the group, such as the takeover of the Thistle sites, which we had been pursuing for a long time. We also acquired The Fountain, a great gastro pub in Fountainbridge, and Spiritual in Glasgow. Although each of our sites is very much part of the team, we try to run them like true independents and Nic looks for general managers with real entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t even have a corporate or group website.
Q: Despite 2016 being a stellar year, each business inevitably has its fair share of challenges. What are the main challenges facing the industry right now?
A: Edinburgh as a location is definitely a challenge. Its tourism season lasts for nine months of the year. Many people will say it’s a 12-month season but we can certainly vouch for the quiet periods. And, of course, the economic uncertainty is a challenge too.
Other challenges in the Capital include the pop up of big name nationals, such as The Ivy Brasserie and Drake & Morgan – opening on my turf! Edinburgh seems to be the go-to place to open and, of course, the St Andrews Square and St James developments are going to drag significant numbers of people down to the east end of the city and away from the likes of The Huxley.
Q: How do you plan to tackle these challenges in 2017?
A: Well, my eye is never far from the sales figures. Whenever we implement a new campaign, I give it eight weeks before I start the analysis. This year is going to be all about personalised marketing. The average person gets 50 emails a day – many of which are disregarded or deleted. Therefore we have to be more clever about building engagement. I plan to reach out to our customers and consumers personally. Yes, it will be more laborious and time consuming, but it will be worth it.
If a consumer says they don’t like our apple pie on one of our comment cards, for example, I’ll be getting in touch to offer them another – on the house. Similarly, if a consumer says they really love our Bloody Marys, I’ll be getting in touch to thank them personally and offer them another. It’s about niche marketing to make the customer feel special and giving them their ‘X-Factor moment’ at Signature Pubs.
Consumers in hospitality tend to review experiences with their feet. Yes, they might take to social media to comment but, if they haven’t enjoyed the experience, they just generally won’t come back. You’re only as good as your last burger.
Q: What else is in store for Signature Pubs in 2017?
A: We have grown from five to 16 units so it’s time to make these new investments really perform. It’s time for building on what we believe in. We tend to give them time running along and, if necessary, step in to make small changes. We’re looking forward to an exciting year.