When Ben Carroll and Hamish Watts started Applejack Hospitality 10 years ago the pair had ambitious plans for growth of the group.
Ten years on and that desire to keep building and keep creating successful and popular venues where staff like working and patrons like visiting has not diminished.
“Hamish and I started Bondi Hardware 10 years ago and our plan was to do five venues in five years, which we achieved. In fact I think we had six venues in five years,” Ben told Bars and Clubs.
“Then it actually came up just before the pandemic that our goal was to double the size of the company in the next five years and we’re on track to do that. We’re also on track to do that without having any crowdfunding or private equity, anything like that, which a lot of companies have had to do.
“It’s still just the two of us in Hamish and I and we’ve grown organically over the last 10 years. And fortunately over the years we haven’t taken on much debt, which has enabled us to be in a really strong cashflow position.
“So the purpose of growing is not about profit, it’s not about revenue. It’s about having a bigger share in hospitality and particularly in Sydney. By growing it means we can offer more opportunities to our people, we can promote more junior people within our company into more senior roles, we just want to create more opportunities.”
He added: “We also want to be a bigger part of the communities that we are in, we just love what we do. So while growth does mean more revenue and more profit, it only means that so we can continue to do what we love doing and continue to take our teams with us.”
There are many challenges that come with targeting that kind of growth, not least coming up with the concepts and ideas for venues that will work in the markets and locations they are placed. But Ben told Bars and Clubs this is one of the areas where he and Hamish work well together.
“I’ve got a strong marketing background and understanding target markets and communities and Hamish is great with concepts and ideas and the really creative angel. One of us will come up with an idea and then we just brainstorm it and workshop it, so while it is challenging, we also love doing it.”
That passion and love for the industry, for staff and to have venues that offer the best for people is something that is just front and centre when talking with Ben about the group and hospitality in general.
This is seen in the loyalty program that Applejack has introduced, which gives customer rewards points, but also makes in-venue ordering easier as well.
Ben explained: “There’s an Applejack app in the App Store and that has all our venues listed on it. We can send a notification to say here’s a $10 voucher or a free cocktail at Bopp & Tone, or we can give away tickets to our comedy night at Forrester’s, or other notifications like that.
“Then when you’re in venue you can order through the app and the app enables you to get discounts. It also enables you to get loyalty points for every dollar you spend and you can redeem your points for cash or drinks over the bar.
“It’s also a platform for all our staff and we’ve got training programs on there, our rostering system is on their and it’s the way we communicate with all our staff. So it’s created this community and with the staff all being comfortable using it they can inform customers about it and tell them how to use it and get rewards from it.
“We launched it in November and it’s doing extremely well. Rewards programs like these are nothing new but it hasn’t really been done in hospitality except for the buy 10 coffees get one free card that you put a hole in. I think it’s crazy that more people in our industry are doing rewards programs, they aren’t looking after the loyalty of their customers.”
He adds: “Everyone talks about customer and community loyalty. Well this is one of the first things you can do and it’s not really happening. So that’s a bit surprising but it does mean there is a great opportunity for those people who are first and there’s only a few companies doing it at the moment.”
It’s also a factor in how Applejack have shaped their venues for trading during the pandemic and giving people what they want when the go out, especially as people are heading out less frequently.
“It’s one of the biggest things we have found through this pandemic is people are less likely to try their luck and chance whether a venue is any good because they are only going out once a month or once every couple of weeks. Their spend per head will be up, but they want to know they are getting a good quality product, or least a product that’s familiar to them, rather than taking a chance and ending up unhappy with their experience and wasting a night out.
“It’s something that Applejack started off with at Bondi Hardware was a one-stop shop where you could come in for dinner and then finish on cocktails and you could spend the whole night at one venues. That’s more important than ever because people don’t want to bar hop and put themselves at risk and then find that they might have to isolate for 14 days.
“So food for any venue is just so important now, food is the key driver to get people in and then you’ve got to offer some sort of experience that they can’t create at home or get in another venue.”
With that kind of focus and understanding of the market and trends it’s easy to see why Applejack has had such a successful 10 years so far and why those ambitious plans for growing the business look highly attainable.