A Brewer’s Tale
Running a successful pub is no mean feat these days. Once upon a time it was the business everyone with a nine-to-five job dreamed of – a rose-tinted vision that usually involved pulling pints for characterful locals at a gleaming mahogany bar, polishing tankards and serving the odd ploughman’s lunch in a charming hostelry on the edge of a Midsomer-style village.
Well, if that was something of a pipe dream half a century ago, it’s well and truly in the realms of fantasy today. Publicans like Alison Davis are working harder than ever in an industry where success is a constantly moving target.
A Micro-Brewery Is Born
Alison and her husband bought a freehouse close to Carlisle back in 2007. The Spinner’s Arms in Cummersdale had charm by the bucketload but it was no easy ride. After 18 months of hard graft, the couple realised they needed to diversify in order to make the business work in the long term. After examining and discarding many possibilities, including incorporating a shop or a post office into the premises, they landed on the idea of establishing an in-house micro-brewery.
Real ale had always been an important part of the pub’s appeal for regulars and, with the help of a DEFRA grant and some marketing advice from the University of Cumbria, The Carlisle Brewery Co was founded in the back of the pub.
We Needed To Learn LOTS!
‘In many ways, establishing the brewery just created a new set of problems,’ says Alison. ‘We’d always planned to bring on more staff to help us manage the extra duties. But in the short term the workload just increased massively and we started casting around for support options.’
‘Thanks to an initiative from Cumbria Growth Hub, we were able to access free training targeted at small rural businesses like ours. I had a lightbulb moment on Sarah’s sales course when everything started to click into place. Many courses leave you buzzing but this one really made sense.’
Alison was in the same position as many entrepreneurs who find themselves faced with the many dozens of challenges that are all part and parcel of running a business but feel so far removed from their own areas of expertise. Only a very few have all the skills they need to manage every aspect of their startup and it’s important to acknowledge that we all need help somewhere along the line.
How Sarah Helped
‘When Sarah set up her Accountability Club and Facebook group I joined in. When she ran her first VIP programme in December 2014, which offers a month of daily one-to-one contact, including target-setting and follow-up support, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands,’ says Alison. ‘For me, it was important to have someone to consult outside the confines of the business. The notion of accountability helped – knowing I had to report on my progress every day. It wasn’t about judgement but more about forcing me to address the current challenges, learn more about myself and plan a proper future for the business.’
‘The pub is a lifestyle business but it’s still a business. At the beginning, we’d muddled through and hoped for the best. After the project with Sarah, I started to get some real clarity over our business choices. We put fresh plans in place and began to more clearly see the steps we’d need to take to take the business where we wanted to go.’
The pub and brewery are now going from strength to strength. The plant has quadrupled in size, more staff have been recruited and there’s a constantly growing customer base – all of which means that the business is starting to get a name and the future looks bright.
‘Sarah doesn’t pull any punches,’ concludes Alison. ‘She’s the cold bucket of water you need to shock you into reality and spur you into action. There’s no point plodding on if you’re doing the same things wrong over and over again. I feel I’ve acquired a different mindset; we have a process and we’re making sales. Without Sarah’s support, we might never have reached this stage. If I have a dilemma now, I find myself saying “What would Sarah do?” – I can’t give higher praise than that!’