How do you turn a long-held dream into an award-winning micro-pub and thriving high street business in less than a year?
Andy Williams, beer enthusiast and owner of The Bow-Legged Beagle in New Brighton, Wirral, took time out to tell us how it’s done.
Andy and his good friend John Smith had long dreamed and planned, over a pint, their entry into the pub trade before they took the plunge. One year ago, they opened The Bow-Legged Beagle – a micro pub named after Bobby, John’s family pet. It has proven such a roaring success, even winning Wirral CAMRA Pub of the Season (Spring) 2018, that a second outlet will open soon.
“By the time we decided we were actually going to do this, we had a pretty clear idea of the kind of place we wanted to run,” Andy said. “We’d always been frustrated to see the great many local microbreweries under-represented in the area’s pubs and wanted to put it right.
“But more than that, we wanted something completely different to anything else available nearby. We had a vision for a small cosy bar; a place where good people could get together to drink lovingly created, selected, and drawn beers, without distraction for TVs and jukeboxes and so on. We’re not the cheapest, there are tied pubs for that, but a place where people can pay a fair price for an excellent product.”
That singularity of purpose has undoubtedly played a big part in the bar’s success, and shaped everything from the range of beers on offer to the decor. For instance, many of the tables and furnishings at The Bow-Legged Beagle are made from recycled wood and pallets. Along with cosy hues and warm lighting, these natural materials combine to create a peaceful and comfortable space in which to enjoy a tipple.
Not surprisingly, it has become a firm favourite, attracting a host of regulars and a constant flow of newcomers.
“The Bow-Legged Beagle is shaped by three principles that John and I believe in absolutely, and which guide everything we do,” Andy explained. “Great beer is an obvious one, but you still have to go out and find it. Then we have to know every one of the 60 plus beers we sell so we can help people find something they’ll love.
“The environment is really important too, but it’s the people that really that make it. I’m on first name terms with 200 or so regulars. That’s what I like the most, the chance to talk to and get to know customers. There’s always a place for the tied pubs, but you don’t get that really personal experience or the range of beers.
“Ultimately, that was the aim. To offer something completely different, so it enhances the area rather than competing with what’s already there.”
That point of view is evident again when Andy talks about how new businesses can success on local high streets.
“Do one thing and do it well,” he said. “We don’t do food for instance. We know some micropubs do, but something always suffers, the beer or the food. Besides, there is a tapas restaurant next door and an Italian restaurant nearby. I’d rather we all worked together for the greater good than try to take business off each other.
“The key, I think is to look at what’s already available in the local area and add to it. You see bookshops with cafes. I get why they do it, but just be a bookshop. There’s a café next door and you’re taking their business.”
Like so many successful independent high street businesses, it is the owners’ passion that shines through. Andy and John love what they do, even though the hours are long and the work hard.
“I love seeing the place full,” Andy said. “I like feeling that we are adding something to the local community rather than just working in a shop. I won’t lie, it’s been hard, hard work, but it’s also been a blast. We thoroughly enjoy every minute of it, from building relationships with local breweries to just spending time chatting with customers. It’s like the Cheers bar sometimes.”
Andy’s previous career at a retail manager in big stores meant he was well aware of the value of insurance at the outset, seeing it as vital to protecting their investment, and their dream.
“There are lots of risks to think about,” he explained. “The building is from 1840, so that brings its own issues, then you have to worry about slips and trips. Business Insurance for me is knowing we have the right cover in place gives us the confidence to focus on making sure everyone who walks through the door leaves happy, having tried a couple of lovely beers in a friendly environment.”
Looking to the future, Andy and John have big plans: “We started from literally nothing to try to build this brand, and we never planned to stop at one. We think there are lots of high streets nearby that need something different, and it only takes one business to make a success before others follow. That’s why independent businesses are the future of the high street.”
In keeping with that ethos, Andy and John will soon open their second Bow-Legged Beagle in nearby Upton Village, a town whose high street has long struggled after a large supermarket opened nearby, and which sorely needs an influx of new ideas.
“It’s an area that gets overlooked a bit because so many businesses failed after the big store opened. But we offer something a bit different and let’s not forget there are 17,000 people living in that area of the Wirral.”
Of course, Andy and John realise their roles will change as the business grows, but it seems likely that the ethos and sheer passion behind The Bow-Legged Beagle will take them a long way.
“As the business grows you go from being barman to business owner, but you’ll still find me behind the bar. I love it. You’ve got to keep it interesting and personal and you have to be passionate about it.
“We absolutely love doing what we do and that is so important. If you have no passion for your business, you’re doing the wrong thing.”
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