Neil Randall, acclaimed footballer for Subiaco and South Fremantle, Commissioner of the WAFC, Past President and Director of Subiaco Football Club, owner of the Paddington Ale House, President of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Hotels Association and Board Member for Hostplus, spends time with MJ talking all things leadership and the state of play in the Perth Hospitality Market.
Leadership and learning
What are the most important traits that every leader should possess?
I believe in empowering my managers; giving them a full brief on what you expect and letting them run with it. Creating an environment which encourages them to come up with their own ideas so that they own them and are invested.
I also believe that a leader needs to model the behaviour that they want to see. Set an example and lead from the front.
Who has been most influential in your career; and why?
The late Athol Higgins [previous owner of the Highroad Hotel in Riverton and the Hyde Park Hotel, North Perth]. Athol set a great example of how to be ethical in business. A renowned musician, Athol believed in having fun and entertaining. He taught me to engage with customers; but to do it from behind the bar. Entertain and engage - from the back not the front. This is a philosophy I have endeavoured to pass onto my management team.
The late Peter Eakins [former owner of The Cottesloe Beach Hotel and infamous Collingwood footballer who started and ended his career with Subiaco]. Pete set an example for me of looking outside of the hospitality industry as a means to learn and grow. He was always interested in looking at how other industries and businesses operated. What could be taken from their operating models and transferred across into our industry. Pete believed that a great publican was a great entertainer; he reminded me to always enjoy what I do and spend quality time with my customers and hotel family.
How do you stay relevant and current in your knowledge?
As the President of the Western Australia branch of the Australian Hotels Association I remain informed on local matters directly impacting our industry. I travel constantly for national board meetings of the AHA and also for Hostplus; these meetings keep me informed on a national and global perspective. I am fortunate to spend my time with people who live, think, breathe and drive this industry.
Moments in time
What are the two most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from or got you where you are today?
I would have to say that the first pivotal event which went on to positively shape my life was my Father advising me that he had enrolled me in Scotch College. The move from the relatively small town of Mt Barker to Perth, and boarding school life, quickly broadened my horizons; forcing me to grow up. Scotch was where I found my passion for football [Neil played for Subiaco WANFL from 1971-1979 and then South Fremantle in the WAFL from 1980 – 1983]. Football has without doubt had the most influence on my life both socially and professionally.
The second most important lesson I learned was to never trust anyone in business. I learned this the hard way. I was working in a business on the promise of gaining an equity share based on performance. A year down the track having doubled the turnover I approach management requesting what I believed to be my fair share of equity earned and was told ‘no’. This taught me to get everything in writing and to always work through the due legal process. I am thankful it was a lesson l learned relatively early in life; it has served me well.
Tell me about a time when things didn’t go to plan. How did you fix it? What did you learn?
I went into business with a very good mate that unfortunately ‘went south’ and ended up in receivership. I was appointed by the receivers to manage the business following on from their appointment. I negotiated with our creditors who were amazing. In 12 months I was able to trade the business back into the black, restore faith and goodwill and strengthen business relationships.
I fixed the situation by remaining strong in myself and not giving up. I knew that with patience and persistence I would be able to repair the situation.
I learned that I should have enforced what I learned from my first lesson! Business is business! Even if it is with friends. Get everything in writing. As a business owner you are accountable and if you are not careful and smart, you can fast fall victim to circumstance.
Creativity, innovation and motivation
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?
I have always encouraged my three sons Jon [General Manager of the Paddington Ale House], Sam [Bottleshop Manager] and Ben [Manager of their newest establishment The Sandbar overlooking Scarborough Beach] to champion innovation and creative thinking within our businesses. I recognise the importance of social media and building a digital brand. As a self-confessed technology dinosaur, I was only too happy to empower my sons to champion this area within the business. I was smart enough to recognise the importance of IT and the change in how you connect with your audience, and smart enough to empower the boys to drive it.
Innovation is critical for a business to thrive, how do you innovate so successfully?
That’s an interesting question. I think you have to innovate and reinvent constantly to stay current in today’s market. After 36 years in the industry I have never seen a market dictate so quickly what is current and what is not. When I renovated the Paddington Ale House 18 months ago I was sure that I had done my research on the area, the demographics and what our target market wanted. In hindsight, I am not sure that we got it right! It is not enough to renovate a building without renovating and rejuvenating the management’s culture. We failed to move and adjust the mindset of the team in line with the aesthetic and concept changes we made. It was a great example of how important it is for a team to embrace and drive a business vision.
How do you motivate your team to deliver an exceptional experience?
Being a positive role model and leader. Keep your managers happy. Encourage and empower your management team to come up with and share new ideas and involve the staff. I am a big believer in encouraging my staff to enjoy work and bring out their personality whilst they are here. Staff are the first thing a customer sees; they set the tone of the venue. They need to be positive and welcoming.
Your thoughts on Perth’s market
You have been exceptionally successful in hospitality, what’s your advice to someone contemplating starting their own venture?
Do your homework on the establishment, the surroundings and the demographics. Judge the economic climate. In this market you may want to consider holding off for a few years; unless you have the capital to support your operations for at least the first three years, it may well be a dangerous decision. Whilst interest rates may be at an all-time low, remember you still have to pay the loan back. Get your rent % to turnover right.
What’s your current perception of the Perth hospitality market? Where do you see its future direction?
The explosion of small bars and upmarket restaurants has been fantastic. The growth in bars, restaurants and cafes along the Coast has been sensational. This growth however, has perhaps hurt many inner suburban establishments. The mining downturn has certainly not helped either. You just have to look at the negative growth in our State’s population over the past two years to see that we are losing people. A declining customer base makes it difficult to forecast growth in many businesses.
Many would argue that it is potentially a good time to buy; the market appears to have bottomed out and won’t stay there. But just as commodity prices increase, following every boom is a bust so you still need to plan carefully; until more FIFO and backpackers return increasing our State visitor and population numbers trade will remain competitive.
What’s the key to making profit in this market?
Get your rent ratios right. Focus on increasing your turnover; which is easier said than done! Roster wisely; avoid as many penalty rate challenges as you can without compromising service standards. Trim everything! - Expenses, stock and wages. Ensure your staff want to be at work; create a positive environment for them to work in and customers to return to.
What’s the most common service mistake you encounter in Perth venues?
Staff continuously looking at their rosters with their backs to their customers. They should be out on the floor engaging, chatting, actively involved in creating the experience customers are having in their venue. Staff presence is everything. They should spend every opportunity invested in finding out about their customers and making sure they have everything they want or need.
How do you start and end your day?
I go for a run to Kings Park; enjoy a pot of green tea and answer emails. If I don’t run I will hit the gym. I find it gets rid of any negativity and starts me thinking fresh for the day. I usually get to work around 11.30am.
I finish as one should; with a few beers, wine and a chat with my staff and customers or with mates at an industry event.
Are you coffee or tea?
Both; it depends on the time of day and the occasion in question.
Drink of choice?
Beer; I love a good beer. Having said that though, I do enjoy a good wine with my meal!
Describe your perfect day off
I don’t have a day off! My perfect day is every day! I am fortunate that my calendar is filled with industry events, meeting and golf days. I get to spend every day with interesting, knowledgeable people who I enjoy spending time with.
What's the most exciting thing you have done over the past year?
My sons and I embarked on an educational tour to Chicago and New York. We went to an International Restaurant Association show run by the National Restaurant Association (in America) [the largest annual gathering of the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry. The NRA show takes place every May in Chicago]. The learning, journey and adventures were unforgettable.
What’s left on your bucket list that you are dying to do?
I want to see the Paddington Ale House return to the bustle and great vibe of its hay-day. Drive the business forward and flourish. I am also excited to watch our new venture overlooking Scarborough Beach, The Sandbar, develop and evolve.
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