"The one benefit of starting a business in the middle of a recession is that you kick off with things as bad as they can get," says Dom Wood, proprietor of WildWood bar and restaurant in Bristol. "Many of my peers complain to me about the price of utilities and produce, and I agree, but I don't know any different. I've never had the good times," he adds.
Not that WildWood, a mainly privately funded bar, is doing badly, with a food GP of 67% and drink GP of 68%. And Wood doesn't even have an overdraft. "I don't have an overdraft, which has been a blessing in many ways, but it has also forced me to keep my cash flow and transactions carefully monitored and as spread out as possible," he says.
He does, however, have a fall-back loan of £25,000 and he stresses that survival involves careful management. Wood keeps a careful tab on costs at his operation by offering an appealing but low-cost menu, employing as few people as possible and keeping waste to a minimum. "We're lucky suppliers deliver food on a daily basis, so we don't order too much and our menu is easy to control," he says. "Staffing has always been kept to a minimum too - mainly because of my constant presence."
Wood is also cautious about the success of costly advertising. "We have advertised in local food and going-out magazines, but customers don't mention this, so it's hard to gauge what makes a difference." He uses social networking sites such as Twitter to publicise special offers and says his MySpace page gets a lot of hits.
Rent is Wood's biggest hurdle and he believes the Government should do more to help small businesses. "I am dismayed the Government and council do not do more considering small businesses are apparently building the future of the economy."
While Wood would like to open additional bars or restaurants, he says he needs to be realistic about his time frame and achievable goals. "I don't want the bar to be a one-off but I have no plans to expand at the moment. I think by the time I do, lending will be less stringent than it is now," he adds.
Wood's mentor, Rupert Clevely, praises his decision not to get bogged down by an overdraft. "Dom seems to be positive, and he was right not to get an overdraft and receive additional pressure from banks," he says. "I also think he is running the business better, looking at his margins, and he's done well to get the GP on drink. It is difficult to get that much on wine."
However, he thinks it is important for operators to consider their rent before they open a business. "There's no point in people moaning about rent, you've got to accept it," he says. Clevely also agrees with Wood on the importance of word of mouth for promotion. "Word of mouth is the best way to promote. You also need good PR and press coverage," he says. "Special offers are important, too, but not the key factor. You need a good business, to watch costs, offer good-quality food, which Dom has done. This way the place will be busy purely because people like it."
90 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB
0117 929 3627www.thewildwoodbristol.co.uk
Turnover doubled in the last two weeks of July at WildWood, which is a relief for proprietor Dom Wood.
"June was disastrous," he admits. "No one came in. But the last couple of weeks we've been run off our feet, with turnover doubling."
He attributes the busy times to word of mouth and a liberal marketing campaign that attracted a clientele that ranged from "people like myself, 30-year-olds with disposable income, up to 80-year-olds".
Special offers include a buy-one-main-course-get-the-second-for-half-price deal from Monday to Thursday and free tapas between 5pm and 7pm. "We have also had a number of private parties. Not only is this good for business, but it introduces new people to the bar," Wood says.