Richard Jones MBII (Rich) has worked his way up from cutting his teeth as a barman with Young’s to running his much beloved Brentford local, The Lord Nelson, in SW London.
With the security of a 10-year lease, Rich and his wife Elise have been busy redesigning and refitting the pub. “We really like the longer-term agreement. My wife is a designer and it means we can put our own stamp on it. We wouldn’t have committed this spend on a shorter lease, but now we have the security, we feel we can do the things we want to here to build for the future.”
The Lord Nelson’s first refit, when the couple originally took over, was the launch pad for Elise’s successful design business, with this most recent and more comprehensive refurbishment really giving them the freedom to transform the place.
When Covid-19 closed the doors of pubs and all that came with it, Rich found himself in a really fortunate position. Fuller’s had renewed their lease and put an immediate halt on the rent, and with the Government’s furlough scheme, he knew that the staff would be looked after. This gave him the freedom to explore all the financial options and to invest in the fabric of the pub building and the garden.
“With shorter leases and tenancies, people don’t want to spend the big money, understandably. The pub has been added to over the years but much of it has been bodged together really… but having had the time to do the garden over lockdown and the interior this year has meant we have been able to do the whole thing properly.”
Removing an old play area, levelling the ground and making a feature of a large eucalyptus tree by wrapping it in lights and a custom-made bench seat, the garden makeover has transformed it into a comfortable and inviting dining and drinking space. A custom-made tepee style tent also season proofed the space, creating an area that was warm and dry all year round – crucial to increasing covers post-pandemic.
Social media marketing
Rich attributes the success of reopening to his teasing the new garden makeover on the pub’s social media platforms.
“I think I’m relatively good with social media, but sometimes it does feel like you’re shouting into a bit of a black hole. You don’t always get the engagement, but I realised that when we reopened, people came just to see the garden after reading about it on social media. They might not have been commenting or liking the post, but they had seen it and word spread. “That has given me more confidence, because I had started to wonder if I should be spending my time doing something else!”
Tech, service and staffing
With staff retention and recruitment being a high priority for most pubs, Rich’s approach to his team has helped enormously and has put the business in a good position.
“I really care about my staff and I think, and hope, they’d say the same about us. We get a lot of uni students who leave to go home, but they always stay in touch and whenever they come back, they always say that it has been their favourite place to work,” says Rich, adding: “I’ve had some bad experiences and I’ve seen staff treated harshly. In some pubs, it’s all about hitting the figures to achieve x salary.
But you end up doing 70 hours a week.
“I’ve never wanted to do that to my staff. We try to work as a unit – we make the decisions together before I have final say.”
With outdoor and table service bookings being the order of the day, when The Lord Nelson reopened after the Omicron lockdown in April 2021, Rich said he had never had a better selection of staff to choose from.
“We ended up taking on about 14 great quality people and we now have a really good team. We were lucky there. A lot of things have fallen in our favour really!”
He has also been fortunate with his energy bills, having managed to fix the contract just before the price increases hit. “We were so lucky there, but we have also installed LED light bulbs, a new linked lighting system, where it’s easy to turn everything off at once, new fridges and energy-efficient equipment and so on.
“The kitchen hasn’t been included in this refurb, but we did get a lot of new equipment when we reopened after the first lockdown, so the whole pub has a new lease of life.”
With the kitchen equipment being updated in 2020 and the garden re-landscaped, a host of new opportunities have opened up for Rich and the team. From making the most of the increased number of table covers, to the all-weather outdoor space.
“We were always quite good on food, but the biggest change has to do with customer type – we’re probably 40-50% women now, whereas before the pub was quite male dominated. Our sales mix has changed too. We now serve a lot more cocktails, wine and food, but that’s not to say that women don’t drink beer, of course. It’s as much to do with our creating a really pleasant place to go.”
Rich adds that the move away from beer has been beneficial. “Being tied, beer is where we get our lowest margins. Any time we can change our sales mix to include other products is great for us.”
For Rich, everything has been about exploiting the opportunities and maximising the revamp.
“With the refurb, we’ve spent extra in order to build for the future, for instance, by replacing all the electrics and the bar. We pulled out the old back bar, which was really impractical, and it’s all new now with an actual cocktail station and an ice well.”
Plans are now in place to take advantage of the predicted rum boom, with Rich introducing a house cocktail, Nelson’s Blood, which he explains is a nod to the pub’s namesake and the legendary story of Nelson’s body being preserved at sea in a barrel of rum.
As is so often the case, the passion and energy from Rich and the team is leading the Nellie towards a brighter future, as well as creating a thriving place for locals and visitors alike to eat, drink and socialise. The investment in people and the fabric of the building will ensure The Lord Nelson is a fantastic community venue for years to come.
The Lord Nelson