Glenn, can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your position of owner and manager of the Laurieton Hotel?
I grew up in Laurieton and started my career at ANZ Bank Port Macquarie, straight after I finished school. I moved to Sydney at 19 on a bank transfer and was lucky enough to meet a couple of great mentors, who got me off and running. During my twenties I held a bunch of different roles in banking and later in local government, which were all great, but didn’t inspire me much. By my late twenties I was sure I wanted to run my own business and spent lots of time looking at opportunities.
My criteria were to get a business that would allow me to live and work in the Hastings area, I wanted to be able to make good money, and I wanted to do something fun and interesting.
So in 2007 I took a huge leap and bought my favourite pub … Laurieton Hotel. It’s where I bought my first schooner of beer as an 18 year old, and it’s full of great memories as a place where myself and many of my family and friends have come together over the years.
At that stage I had never poured a beer, and my first day as owner was the first time I had walked behind a bar! It was a steep learning curve, and I think it was just the sort of challenge I needed at the time. It was a risky move, but one I am really pleased that I took. The hotel industry has become my passion, and I can see myself being involved in the industry until I drop!
What is that you like the best about your role?
I like the variety in this role, and I enjoy the people I come into contact with.
There is no such thing as a typical day for a publican, and there is never a dull moment. Publicans are heavily involved in such a broad range of activities, including event planning, supplier meetings, marketing, purchasing, public relations, performance management, budgeting, promotions, merchandising, and much more. We have to be good negotiators, and we have to be innovative. Of course, we are also very hands on with everything, from working behind the bar, running meals, cleaning tables, looking after customers … and of course, sampling the beer to make sure it tastes just right!
I’ve always found a lot of genuinely top people around the place. Many of our customers become our friends. People get to know who you are and take an interest in you. It’s a community within a community, and I love that. If someone falls on hard times, people in pubs rally around and help out.
You have a big team of people who work for you within the bar, the bistro, the bottle shop and your accommodation. What do you think are some of the important factors that employers need to consider when they are hiring and training staff?
If I have learned anything in this business, it’s that good staff are everything. I focus first and foremost on hiring nice people, not nice resumes. When I interview, I don’t ask all the normal questions everyone is used to, because people can programme themselves to answer them, and you can often learn nothing real about the applicant. I prefer to have an open conversation and try to get to know the person, and I find this approach reveals the most. It is far more important to me to find a person that will fit in and be happy working with us, than to find a person with the right experience and training. We will give them the training and time to develop. It’s all about getting the right fit!
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced running your business, and how have you overcome them?
There are always challenges running this business, and I have had some doozies over the years! Probably the toughest ongoing challenge is that the cost of everything keeps going up pretty sharply, and we are unable to fully pass that on. If we did, it would price us out of the market … People wouldn’t pay. In the decade I have had here, just about everything’s cost has gone through the roof, yet the price of a schooner of beer has hardly increased at all. It’s a constant battle, but we try to wring every dollar out of every stream of the business that we possibly can, negotiate with suppliers and keep looking for opportunities.
Some of the other challenges in our industry include legislative changes such as smoking restrictions, bans on takeaway after 10pm, the introduction some years ago of a new tax on premixed drinks. All of these challenges have impacted our business. We just roll with the punches and hang in there!
What do you think is the single most important factor in running a successful, regionally based business?
Get a good team of advisers behind you. My support team includes my accountant, insurance broker, solicitor and business consultant, and they are enormously important to my success. Their input helps with key decision making. No matter how good you are, you can’t do it on your own, and having the right team has helped me navigate through so many challenges and has helped keep me on the front foot.
And finally, if you could invite any three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?
Justin Hemmes of the Merivale Group: one of the best today in the hotel, bar and restaurant business. He is a real innovator in the industry, and I would love to pick his brains. He’s quite a young guy who was lucky enough to come from a very wealthy family and get his start, but he has really done a great job and has some of the best venues in Australia in his 50 plus venue portfolio.
John Singleton – self-made entrepreneur known for embracing the “Aussie-occer” style! He’s old school, loves a beer and a bet, a straight talker, larrikin, knows his way around pubs; he’s got plenty of runs on the board. I imagine the conversation would be great fun, and he seems like someone I would relate to!
James Packer – as far as I know he doesn’t have any pubs in his portfolio (only casinos!) but he does have plenty of money. My plan would be to try to talk him into funding my dream of buying a stable of iconic regional pubs and breathing new life into them. He could fund the venture, and I would run it. Seems like a good idea to me!
Thanks so much for your time, Glenn.