At the start of the Best for Business process Dominic Wood was excited at the prospect of the Wild Wood, his restaurant and bar in Bristol, benefiting from some impartial, and sometimes difficult, advice.
"As a one-man operation I was aware that to have a ‘devil's advocate' would bear fruit," he explains. "I was also interested in making some good industry contacts to strengthen the bar's position."
Wood was willing to take on any suggestions from his mentor Rupert Clevely. He had clear ideas as to how he wanted to run his business, having drawn inspiration from his time at the Hotel du Vin hotel group, but was also open to any criticism or constructive advice that might help the business take off.
"Everything Rupert has said has made sense," Wood says. "Some of the ideas he proposed I implemented almost immediately, like ‘what's on' blackboards, free tapas in the early evening and more music nights."
Even though some of the advice was hard to take, Wood took it all on board with an open mind. "Rupert certainly played devil's advocate," he explains. "And I'd like to thank him for that."
But it wasn't just Clevely's expertise that Wood took made use of. "I also have had a good working relationship with First Choice Coffee," he adds. "Aimee from their sales team came across as being interested in what the bar had to offer and strengthening that offering. We also benefited from their barista, Dale, who performed training sessions that knocked the socks off any coffee training I have received in the past 10 years. He has real passion and isn't just working for a pay cheque."
If there's one aspect of his business that Wood thinks he could improve upon it is the financial side. But as a one-man business it is unsurprising that the day-to-day operation takes over at times. "I have my finger in too may pies and need to stand back and attack the elements head on," he admits. "I'm not so sure I need advice, but if there is a way of putting more hours in a day I would be listening."
Running a fledgling business means that time has been in short supply for Wood, who has had to take on more as the bar has become more successful. "I try to keep costs down by covering the floor as much as possible," he adds. "I wouldn't change that because the passion that I have for the bar cannot be replicated by someone who is just employed there and I think the customers recognise and appreciate that. I suppose I have let the running of the business slip, and as we have got busier it has become harder to stay on top of it all."
But despite some difficulties, Wood is proud of what he has achieved. He says local reviews have been positive and the residents have seen the bar become a local talking point. He adds: "It's my creation and we have a great local following. Admittedly that could do with growing but no one comes to the bar just once, they become regulars. I am immensely proud of that."
Christmas was a success at the Wild Wood, with office parties and festive revellers boosting business. "It was great, we were really busy," says owner Dominic Wood.
But unlike the local trade Wood has built up over the year, the revellers were less interested in the ambience than they were in making the most of the hospitality. "It's a little soul-destroying because office parties aren't so interested in how hard you've worked to achieve your product, they are more interested in getting some free drink and food," Wood says.
Being a relatively new business that began in the recession, the priority for the Wild Wood is continuing to operate. All Wood is concentrating on in 2010 is survival.
"We are a small business with no big-money investors so any kinks in our trading pattern can have a profound effect on the overall health of the business," he explains. "I am kept positive by the constant reams of positive feedback and interest that is shown in the bar. Our growth may be gradual, but it is happening."