20 million pints of beer are enjoyed in the UK every day – so why shouldn’t you pull some of them? We met Kirk from Tilt in Birmingham who gave up his job at the tax office, got together with his mate Richard, and opened an independent pinball pub. How hard is it to open a bar? Let’s find out…
What were the key factors to Tilt’s success?
1. A gap in the market
Kirk and Richard had been to brilliant craft beer pubs in London, Manchester and a dozen other cities, but there were no serious options in Birmingham – so they realised there was a direct demand to satisfy.
2. Knowledge of their customer base
The Birmingham beer scene was familiar to Kirk and Richard as they were serious beer enthusiasts themselves. They also knew that a growing number of people were looking for a bar that served craft beer and high-quality coffee.
3. Playing on a new concept.
Traditional pubs tend to be focused on old methods. When you’re designing your business, you have the freedom to create a pub concept that keeps up with the latest trends. In the case of Tilt, the addition of pinball to a pub environment was a fresh take on an old favourite.
Two friends who turned their passion into everyday life.
4. Starting straight away
Kirk and Richard didn’t wait. They found the Birmingham craft beer scene severely underserved – and hurried to offer a serious and viable option. They consider their ongoing success to be a result of the Birmingham beer scene still not offering enough craft beer pubs.
5. Building relationships
With Tilt up and running, Kirk started to keep careful track of his customers using his iZettle’s free point-of-sale app. He used this database to keep customers up-to-date, and today Tilt serves 50-60% regulars, who return because they know that they always be offered something new and interesting.
Sound like fun? Don’t quit your day job just yet. Every small business requires careful attention and planning. And the hospitality industry is a tough place to get a break. High rents, supermarket special offers and the smoking ban are continuing to cause a high number of pubs to close. For an honest overview of the industry, we spoke with Kirk and compiled a list of things every aspiring pub owner needs to know.
Have you thought about?
- Having a leasehold? Three-fifths of UK pubs are owned by big breweries or so called ‘pub companies’. Leaseholders will rent the space and run the business while the property continues to be owned by the breweries or ‘pubcos.’ In most cases the brewery will oblige you to buy a certain amount of beer from them. For publicans who can’t afford to own their own space, this is a cheaper option.
- Running a free pub. If you decide to go for the “free house” concept, you’re not dependent on any brewery. Most pubs operating as free houses still have agreements with certain breweries though. As a free-trader the up-front investment gets much bigger making it a much tougher option for most aspiring pub entrepreneurs. At the same time the potential future rewards are bigger.
- Business plan. This is no joke. Only once you’ve put together a business plan can you start to understand the challenges you’re up against. Costs, weaknesses, threats…all these things need to be planned for in advance. What will happen if interest rates go through the roof? Or if those old pipes in the start to leak? A good business plan will take these things into account. Sound like too much work? Well without one you’ll never persuade breweries or the mortgage lender to cover your start-up costs. Get it done.
- Obtaining an alcohol license. What is an alcohol license and how do you get one? A license to sell alcohol is issued by the government, and is specific to alcohol consumed at the point-of-sale, such as a pub. The license applies only to you and grants you the title of “pub landlord”. Learn more about alcohol licensing at GOV.UK. and remember that there are different licensing laws in Scotland.
- The crucial location. It’s not only about making sure that the building is compliant with safety and environmental regulations. Will you be located in the city centre – where you’ll have lots of ‘walk-in customers’ but pay a high rent for the space? Or will you be located out of town, with lower rent, but where you’ll be forced to spend more money on marketing and advertising?
Starting to get excited?
There are lots of great resources if you want to dig deeper. We’d recommend:
Most important of all, once you’ve decided to give your boss boot and open your own bar, sign up for iZettle and get the tools to build your business.
Everyone calls themselves a craft beer nerd these days, and our contributor is no exception. Sarah Long travelled all the way to Jordan this summer to drink at their first microbrewery.