Rupert Reeves scoured the market towns of Dorset before buying the Stapleton Arms in Buckhorn Weston, Dorset, in 2006. He settled on the site, a former coaching inn dating from the late 18th century, because it sits near, not one, but three market towns. "It was a successful local pub but it wasn't really going anywhere and needed some investment to bring it up to date," he says. So Reeves spent £200,000 refurbishing the property and relaunching it as a pub with rooms.
How it stands out
Reeves, who also owns fine-dining restaurant the Wife of Bath in Wye, Kent, stresses that the business's staff make all the difference. "I have always wanted to instil a sense of pride and for them to gain a sense of ownership of the place and a desire for the pub to be seen as one of the best in the country," he says. "With this pride comes pride in one's own work and a desire not to let peers down. You can feel that happiness when customers walk through the door."
"One of our guiding principles was that we wanted to be a value for money. When we first set out to open a pub in the countryside we were concerned that lots of restaurants were moving into and charging extortionate prices for mediocre food and mediocre service," Reeves says. So he tried to engage the local community - its cricket team, hockey club, rugby club and farming community.
"We feel the locals are very much part of the atmosphere and without the locals you haven't really got a pub," he adds. But the locals aren't enough to sustain the food and drink side of the business, which is why Reeves is targeting people within a 20-minute radius during the week, and a 30-minute radius at weekends.
Meanwhile, the clientele for the rooms is from even further afield, mostly being made up of weekenders from cities and the home counties who are coming to experience the countryside. Rooms also fill up during the wedding season. But Reeves is equally keen to target the mid-week trade of businessmen and women who are looking for accommodation outside of the usual range of chain hotels.
Reeves still uses guidebooks to get the message out about the Stapleton Arms and, in particular, he works with Alistair Sawday's. "They have been instrumental right from the very beginning," Reeves says. Aside from that, the business mostly relies on repeat custom and word-of-mouth. "If you are doing something well then it doesn't take long for people to talk to you," he adds.
Reeves has recently acquired planning permission to convert worker accommodation within the Grade II-listed Stapleton into another five bedrooms, which would take the total number of rooms to nine.
Meanwhile the business hopes that it will soon secure permission to build new worker cottages for the pub manager and chef on a separate site.
"Our occupancy levels are around 76% so we feel that is a good part of the business to expand," Reeves explains. "An extra five rooms will be instrumental in bringing in an extra £70,000 a year in turnover."
The Stapleton Arms has worked very closely with local Wincanton butcher Andrew Barclay for the past five years and has helped to expand the wholesale side of his already-successful high street business.
"He now employs 14 butchers and we have helped in that," Reeves says. "But on the other side he has helped us tremendously. We have sent chefs to him to be trained in butchery because we have our own pigs and we often get whole venison delivered, and we have a relationship with a local smallholder and take whole lamb carcasses from him. So that has been really beneficial for our business."
Spotlight on pork pies
The Stapleton Arms has become renowned for its pork pies, which Reeves uses as a marketing tool to help differentiate it from other offerings in the local area. The pies sit on the corner of the bar to tempt people and Reeves claims that they have a big following, even with those who don't normally enjoy them. The pub now sells about 200 pies a week, and has become known for them for quite a distance around.
Reeves explains: "I was watching my son play at a rugby festival in Salisbury [which is one hour from the Stapleton] and was talking to someone on the touchline who was asking what I did for a living. When I said pubs and mentioned which one, they said: ‘Isn't that the one which sell those amazing pork pies on the bar?' This is a question I often get asked as people often don't remember the name of the pub they were taken to or stumbled upon but they can remember the pork pies! It's a USP for sure."
rupert reeves's revelations
Favourite restaurant The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent
Favourite hotel Hotel du Vin
Book that has inspiredPork and Sons by Stephane Reynaud
Motto I only want to buy it once so I buy the best
What would you have been Adventure/travel writer
Who do you admire? Jonathan Downey [London bar entrepreneur]
Facts and stats
General manager Sam Drury
Head chef Mark Chambers
Number of staff 18 (Six part time)
Weekend room rates Start from £110 (based on two sharing with breakfast)