When Ian and Karine Wade took over the Ring O' Bells pub near Chester, it was a run-down boozer with a predominantly male customer base. They completely overhauled it, and now it's a family-friendly destination pub, with a very different appearance. Janie Stamford reports
Need to know Husband and wife team Ian and Karine Wade took over the Ring O' Bells in January 2008 with some grand plans. Located in a picturesque Cheshire village - Christleton was named Chester's ‘best kept' - the couple knew that with the right product, they could ensure business would boom.
In collaboration with owners Trust Inns and Modern British Taverns, the Wades called in specialist design consultant Spencer Swinden to help complete a major refurbishment that saw the traditional pub given a complete overhaul.
"We started from scratch," explains Ian Wade. "It was horrible before, with torn carpets and a rubbish old telly. The lounge looked like a cross between an airport lounge and Ikea."
An investment of £300,000, funded by the tenants, with some input from their landlords for the structural work, saw the pub rejuvenated with a warm and welcoming lounge and bar - though you can eat in either - a terraced decking area and a family beer garden.
Target audience As parents of young children, family is a key part of the Wades' success. Ian says: "We spotted a gap in the market for a family-friendly pub, where tradition meets contemporary with a good children's offer; where the food is good and families are welcome rather than just tolerated."
This inclusive attitude towards its customers has been welcomed by the local community, of which the Ring O' Bells plays a major part, with involvement in the likes of the school PTA and village church.
Christleton doesn't boast a large enough population on which the business could survive, so through its food offer and events - such as Champagne tastings, curry club and two-for-one pizza nights - the Ring O' Bells has established itself as a destination pub.
Attracting customers It's not just the appearance of the pub that underwent a major overhaul but also the service and the offer. Prior to the arrival of the Wades, the Ring O' Bells' revenue was 95% wet-led and the average weekly turnover was around £3,000. Fast forward nearly four years and the transformation is dramatic. Food now makes up half of the pub's output and average turnover has shot up to £20,000 a week.
"It's a completely different offer," Ian says. "If we'd put this menu on before the refurb it wouldn't have worked. The village was crying out for the pub to be done up."
As well as the child-friendly approach to business, the pub has built up a strong female customer demographic through the introduction of improved design alongside ladies' coffee mornings. Now Ring O' Bells customers are encouraged to make repeat visits, Ian says, as a result of the warm welcome ahead of great service and a fantastic product.
Future growth The increased popularity of the pub as well as a robust events trade means that the Wades aspire to expand the business in some form.
"We do a lot of functions, which take up one of the two rooms. That loses us a lot of covers," says Ian.
The couple is investigating the possibility of adding an extension to the property in order to create a dedicated dining room for use when one of the others is occupied by a private party. This would be particularly welcome on promotion nights, such as Wednesday's two-for-one pizza deal.
Favourite supplier Provenance plays a huge part of the menu at the Ring O' Bells and Ian's favourite supplier is local butcher Stratton & Stratton.
"They're two minutes away, so if we run out they can nip some more stock down in the car. And you can see where the beef has been grazing. In fact you could almost go as far as naming the cow!" he explains. "Provenance is a huge selling point for our customers."
Ian keeps his wine merchant handy too, sourcing an enviable wine selection from around the world from local trader Rodney Densem Wines.
Best business advice Based on the experience of occasionally making poor staffing choices and launching promotions that have been less successful than hoped, Ian says that mistakes mustn't be dwelled upon. "Learn from it, move on and use it to your advantage," he adds.
Spotlight on design
When the Wades took over as tenants, the Ring O' Bells was run down and gloomy, with a predominantly male customer base. Research revealed the village of Christleton isn't big enough to sustain a business of this size so they needed something that catered to the locals but was also a destination.
Melony Spencer of design consultancy Spencer Swinden explains: "We wanted to liven it up; be sympathetic to the building but create a vibrant interior."
Splashes of colour now give the interior a dynamic vibe, while it remains a relaxing and pleasant space. The bar is more masculine and the lounge and restaurant have been given a softer, more feminine look.
Of particular importance was the revamp of the outside space. It was made multi-purpose, with a dining area, decked sun trap, family lawn with picnic tables and children's play area. "It's all about maximising profitability by increasing visit time and encouraging people to return," says Spencer.
Facts and statS
Owner Trust Inns
Head chef Andrew King
Tenant Ian and Karine Wade
Number of staff 25, including part time
Food/drink ratio 50/50
Average weekly turnover £20,000
By Janie Stamford
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