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‘If You’ve Got The B***s To Do It, It’ll Happen’

It’s a bit like riding a Burning Red Mustang Sally through Key West with an Umpa Lumpa whilst Ziggy Stardust has Sex On The Beach with a Porn Star… That was my introduction to Adventure Bars!

Tom Kidd, Toby Jackson and Kieron Botting, the bars’ owners, have declared it their mission to ‘eradicate mediocrity from London’s bar scene.’ Of course they tweet and they’re on Facebook and they have a crazy website (www.adventurebar.co.uk) but does this stack up as a sustainable business model? This is fine and dandy for three thirty-year old lads apparently committed to endless partying but what is the business reality?

We’ve all heard the mantra (think Innocent Drinks): ‘We believe having fun at work makes you more effective, more creative and more productive’, but come on guys, all you are going to do is drink the profits! Or not turn up. So, does this commitment to adventure actually work?

Aged 24, the trio set up two small bars within nine months in Clapham and Balham. ‘How?’ you ask. They begged, stole and borrowed. A few years later they took on another bar in East Dulwich, doubling their capacity. At this stage they were still working very much in the business and deliberately set about getting themselves to start working on the business, starting the painful process of prising themselves out of the day-to-day running of these fun factories.

The story of their business growth continues in its somewhat random style when they ‘stumble upon’ their next opportunity. In September 2010 they come across a site in Covent Garden that seriously makes them have to up their game. It’s one thing running a couple of small bars in the suburbs but now we are talking West End prices, West End rents, West End customers. Everything would be gambled on making it work.

Open in time for Christmas 2010, capacity was in effect doubled again. But now the sums of money borrowed, the scale of operation, everything was on a grander scale.

A design agency was pulled in at this stage to rebrand and put forward a more consistent message. Clarity is all and the new message was ‘Real Fun’ and this has become part of the DNA, the very fabric of the business.

While the guys clearly shun many of the trappings of corporateness (suits, business cards and job titles) they are hugely professional. Ask for the sales in any hour of any day in any of their bars and the answer is a moment away. Behind the fun factory lies a very effective IT system. Ask how people are employed, out comes a manual and process guide to help you.

What they have not lost is their energy, excitement and enthusiasm for the project. Everything and nothing has changed. The Clapham bar’s record week was £2,500. Now they’re on target for £2.3m!

Part of the getting grown-up piece has been the appointment of advisers that get where they are coming from and get what they are trying to achieve. An ambitious three-year plan has now been put in place and the business processes have been brought in line with the aspiration and dreams of Tom, Toby and Kieron.

I met the boys just before a seminar presentation I was giving. I felt pretty ‘dressed down’ in my designer suit, funky open-necked shirt and trendy shoes. The boys arrived in T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Like the Virgin businesses before them, relaxed but professional.

The formula to be applied to Adventure is the same formula that needs to be applied to any business of this size: get the owner working ‘on’ not ‘in’ the business, be clear about the road ahead, charge premium prices/don’t compete on price, be 100% clear on your overt business benefit and core values, demonstrate your dramatic difference, fix underperforming staff/products/suppliers, obsess with the customer experience, be remarkable, take the tough decisions and take massive action.

The business has avoided the founder-dilemma of being too much ‘in’ the business. The directors now run regular board meetings, confronting strategic and tactical issues in context. There is a plan, there is a clear strategy and KPIs, and yet there is also an obsession with the customer experience. Job done.

The business has succeeded where few do. They have succeeded in growing up – putting in place the boring (but totally crucial) adult stuff – systems, processes, controls and measures yet they haven’t lost their hearts. The accountants do not run this business and yet all the numbers are there at the press of a button. Ask for the ROI on the latest marketing campaign and they can tell you.

In the boardroom they are making the tough decisions about pricing, about people, about return on investments. Meanwhile the party goes on front-of-house. And long may it last.

It really is a bit like riding a Burning Red Mustang Sally through Key West with an Umpa Lumpa whilst Ziggy Stardust has Sex On The Beach with a Porn Star…

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