The Telegraph and Argus have featured an article about Neil Pickles, founder of Pickles Pubs.
Take a look via this link.
The reopening tomorrow of the Bay Horse pub at Cowling, near Keighley, following an extensive refurbishment, marks the latest stage in the transformation of Neil Pickles from wage slave to entrepreneur.
By his own admission, Neil has changed as a person and his life is now on another level, with him at the helm of a hospitality business employing nearly 100 full and part-time staff.
The step change for Neil, who spent 20 years working for Bradford & Bingley, was made possible by completing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) course at the internationally-renowned University of Bradford School of Management.
He crammed in the work in just over two years of a potential six, working full-time by day and attending courses in the evenings, with weekends given over to further study – putting pressure on family life with a young baby.
Neil said: “I was frightened by the prospect of doing an MBA. Apart from an HND in business at night school, I had little formal education, no A-levels and had joined Bradford & Bingley as a 15-year-old junior clerk. I regularly wore out the knees of my trousers due to kneeling on the floor filing.
“I embarked on the MBA after reaching a senior level within B&B fairly quickly but sometimes found attending meetings with other senior colleagues daunting. It was two and a half years out of my life but I achieved it in the shortest time possible.
“Gaining an MBA significantly changed my life. I was more confident and articulate which gave me more of a presence in meetings and in dealing with situations. It has proved invaluable in enabling me to run my own business.”
He started searching online for potential business opportunities, but Neil’s step onto the entrepreneurial ladder came about by chance after he learned that the pub-manager husband of one of his B&B staff was facing redundancy as the pub was being sold.
That was the Old White Bear at Cross Hills “I knew the pub well as I’d grown up on the estate nearby. I knew it was a good pub and was being run by the husband of one of my managers, so there was an element of trust there. While I wasn’t looking to run a pub, it provided a good business opportunity,” said Neil.
Along with his brother Mark and a substantial bank loan, Neil bought the Old White Bear – known locally as ‘The Laughter’, because once upon a time laughing in the pub was frowned upon – and retained the manager to run it while remaining head of operations at Bradford & Bingley.
That 2006 deal was the catalyst for what has become the six-site Pickles Pubs operation.
Neil continued as a one-pub owner for three years but as things deteriorated at B&B he began to consider his options.
“I was B&B through and through but I wasn’t enjoying it anymore so I gave up a well-paid job to pursue a business career,” he said.
He left B&B four years ago, and although he worked at the Old White Bear, didn’t want to be a ‘lifestyle landlord’. His ambition was to run a bigger business operation.
But the next venture with his brother – a Mexican restaurant in Skipton – failed but provided a useful learning curve.
Neil recalled: “To be honest, we didn’t really know what we were doing. The restaurant was in a poor location and Skipton was dead in the evenings. We lost a lot of money. I’ve learned that you take one step back to take two steps forward, and while I didn’t know the trade then, I do now.”
He decided to focus on pubs and after helping to run the Old White Bear for a year while recovering from the restaurant debacle, he mapped out potential targets.
“It was a tough year as the Old White Bear had to support me and my family as well as the manager and other staff,” said Neil.
His next venture was acquiring the lease of the Red Lion at Burley-in-Wharfedale in 2011 after convincing the bank that his management scorecard system and business plan was worth the risk, at a time when the hospitality sector was off lenders’ radar.
A year later, Neil and his family-run company added the Acorn at Eldwick and The Glen at Gilstead.
“Having several pubs makes me a multiple operator in the eyes of pubcos which means we get treated differently. We are proactive with a list not just of areas but of target pubs and I make it known to the pub companies that we are ready to step in where the keys get handed back,” said Neil.
The £250,000 makeover of the Bay Horse will mean that Pickles Pubs, along with Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, have invested more than £1 million in refurbishing six pubs – focusing on creating traditional locals, with hand-pulled ales, log fires and good food.
Neil’s business, which also includes the Yorkshire Hog and Grill outside catering operation, now has a turnover approaching £3 million.
“I deliberately go for pubs with several small rooms which can be decorated in different styles to appeal to different types of customers, from lawyers to dog walkers,” he said.
Neil bought the Old White Bear off the Naylor brothers whose brewery remains a regular supplier of real ale to Pickles Pubs, along with Shipley-based Saltaire Brewery and Ilkley Brewery.
Neil said: “Our success has been due to being grounded in our thinking, not believing we know everything and me having gained the confidence and experience to become a tough negotiator.”
“We work closely with Craven College and are committed to developing apprentices, not using them as slave labour. They get a thorough grounding in all aspects of the business and I also have a business administration trainee working with me.”
He added: “I’m now responsible for my own destiny and I love it.”
- The Telegraph and Argus