finnCap Group recently advised Revolution Bars Group on its £15m placing and transfer to AIM. Following the fundraise we spoke with Rob Pitcher, CEO, Revolution Bars Group about how the firm has navigated the lockdown period and its plans to begin reopening on Monday 6th July.
Watch our interview in full or read the blog below
While it might have just turned July, this coming Saturday 4th is looking more like New Year’s Eve. The latest stage in the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown period constitutes the reopening of English bars and pubs. After three months holed up the British public are champing at the bit to get out and socialise on a Saturday night.
And these are all the reasons why Rob Pitcher, CEO, Revolution Bars Group, will not be opening any of his establishments until the following Monday.
“I don’t want to be testing my safety and COVID-secure protocols with my staff or my guests on a Saturday,” Rob comments.
In facing the multitude of compounding factors to consider for this particular Saturday, Rob Pitcher shares the view of the police. The spread of the virus is still a very real risk factor; social distancing is likely to falter under the burden of a couple of drinks; and with people riding the feelgood wave of being let loose after months inside, the other unknown is what safety and security challenges will present themselves as the evening progresses.
As is the case across all sectors, the exit from lockdown is as unprecedented a strategy as its entry. We are learning as we go; that ethos could not be more true of bars and pubs. The very concept of social distancing is anathema to their raison d’etre. The business of hospitality, after all, is to be hospitable.
Unfortunately until distancing is no longer required, a bar simply cannot operate in the way it once did. Indeed, Rob Pitcher opines that the industry as a whole may not get back to real normality until the second half of 2021. It should be noted that late night venues are still under restriction for the foreseeable future. That the industry must adapt is without doubt.
Revolution’s reopening will be considered and tempered. By opening on Monday 6th July Rob Pitcher’s strategy is to iron out all the issues over the course of the week. Just six bars of an estate of 74 will reopen on the quieter day, allowing for a more methodical reintegration of the team and implementation of new protocols.
“We’re doing them in tranches, so we’ll open six followed by a two-week gap to assess what is the new norm,” Rob continues. “How are guests coming into hospitality businesses? How do they interact with our team members? Are they concerned or not concerned? There’s a lot to be learned.”
Company culture has had to be maintained over the course of the lockdown period. Like many companies we’ve spoken with over the last few months, Revolution Bars’ internal communications changed very rapidly into something less hierarchical and more personable, despite being remote.
The majority of his staff were furloughed and a core leadership team of 30 remained who were naturally brought closer together. Rob hosted regular calls with senior managers, where talking shop could only hold a video conference for so long before the inevitable “How are you doing?” and a chat about the family. He has also written weekly to the wider team and furloughed managers from his personal email account, and as such receives replies from far and wide that go on to spark similar conversations with individual team members.
Rob acknowledges that different staff members will be approaching the reopening in different ways. While the leadership team has been responsible for keeping the business going and exceptionally excited for the return, those that have been at home will be returning at a slower pace and from different personal circumstances. Central to the reintegration is mental health and wellbeing support for staff.
“It needs to be a personalised return to work, according to individuals’ needs. We have 3000 of those individuals that we need to personally take care of,” Rob explains.
How the bar industry as a whole looks set to change is perhaps reflected in the biggest challenge that Rob’s team faces – bars that have capacity for 750 are now set to hold around 180 seated.
“People will have in their heads what Revolution and Revolución de Cuba were like pre-COVID,” says Rob. “Under the current rules it’s a fully seated experience. That’s a very different atmosphere to create.”
What will change in the near future is that guests will book and occupy their own seat and space for friends or family. Where once all 750 guests freely interacted together, now it seems likely that individuals will interact with other groups on their own terms, while remaining within their private space. The immediate challenge is to create a sense of enjoyment and harmony within this new type of atmosphere.
The bar plays a role in taking worry and pressure away from guests, especially in the current context of health. For example, clear signage about safety measures will be displayed everywhere – such as a new Customer Charter drawn up to outline the ten things the bar is doing for guests’ safety, and the things guests can do in return to ensure an enjoyable experience for all. This is all complemented by a more playful tone in its use of language, the onus being on servicing and satisfying demand in the manner of a place of hospitality, rather than a hospital.
“I guess one advantage for us is we have the 18-30-year-old market, who seem least susceptible to the virus and equally most willing – from all the surveys – to get back out and enjoy themselves again,” Rob comments.
Tech will play an increasingly bigger part in helping a new harmony develop, ensuring guests continue to have great interactions with flexibility that assures their confidence. Rob’s team has been focused on a bespoke booking system that will help enable a smooth and continuous turnover of business while all guests are ensured a memorable experience.
Revolution Bars plans to move away from the digital delivery service avenue, currently being adopted across many hospitality businesses, in order to focus on the core of what it does – hospitality. That said, Rob’s team have used this time in lockdown to build on extending the reach of that hospitality to their digital community. Additional revenue streams were found through, for example, online guided rum tastings, as a preamble to the digital dinner party.
Until distancing measures can be lifted, the hospitality industry, a social business, faces a constant challenge. For these reasons, there is no reopening date set for the late-night sector, accounting for a proportion of Revolution Bars’ business.
But while the experience for guests will have fundamentally changed, bars and pubs are first and foremost meeting the deeper responsibility of looking after their guests and staff, and will be spending the next few months feeling out the creation of new atmospheres and experiences.
Finally, a recent £15m fundraise that finnCap Group secured for Revolution Bars Group and subsequent transfer to AIM positions the group well to deal with the future, especially against competitors that may not have comparable market and finance access.
Matt Goode, Corporate Finance Director, Consumer, comments: “We are delighted to have helped Revolution Bars achieve a successful £15m fundraising against a highly uncertain backdrop for the licenced retail sector. The success of the fundraising demonstrated some of the key benefits of being a listed company, as we provided Revolution with access to a significant and broad pool of new investors in addition to receiving significant support from its shareholders, in a timely manner.
"In addition to raising the required level of new equity capital, we also advised Revolution Bars to seek to transfer its listing to AIM at the same time, as we feel that AIM is a more appropriate market for the business which will enable more efficient execution of the Company’s future growth strategy. finnCap Group has a strong track record of helping growth businesses in the Consumer, Leisure and Retail sector with all of their funding and advisory needs. If you would like to discuss how we may be able to help you in the current challenging environment we would be delighted to speak to you.”