Neil Hughes set up his latest business 12 years ago when he bought the lease to The Bowdon Rooms. Originally trained in retail management, he was running a superstore with a £3 million turnover back in 1985 aged just 21. He then worked in retail systems and database design for people like Wedgwood and Dunlop Slazenger before ending up running the IT for Regatta and Craghoppers in Trafford Park. He set up REAL Information Systems in 1996 in Altrincham and ran that consultancy business before selling out in 2002. A year later he founded The Cinnamon Club at The Bowdon rooms.
So, a local man who started in B2C, then went corporate for 15 years before returning to his boyhood dream of running a live music establishment. Having had Dame Cleo Laine, Sir John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton, George Melly and Georgie Fame appear you think he would be happy man. But last year the venue rocked with both OMD and The Beautiful South in one fabulous night – and this is his job !
As a devotee of management books, business coaching, night schools and continuous learning he lists here 12 of his personal thoughts on his approach to business.
1. Spend some time doing what you enjoy
This applies to work or your social life, but when they cross over as mine do, all the better. Just make sure you really, really enjoy your job. Stretch yourself, stretch others, get out of your comfort zone, but don’t ever be bored. If you have a little bit of the mundane in your day, go to night school – learn something new.
2. You get what you tolerate
Sounds obvious, but such a hard lesson to learn, and one taught to me again quite recently by ace Business Coach Sarah Harkness.. If you don’t like something in your business be it a service, an attitude or a product – don’t tolerate it ! Who is leading who here ?
3. Stand up and be proud
Tell people what your business does, what your contribution is and crucially the contribution of your team. We all have parts to play, so make sure people understand the parts, and keep those parts motivated, on track and rewarded. And you’ll find it pays back in happiness.
4. Play fair
I’m not taking legally but morally. In a local business, you get to know all of your suppliers. Look after them and they’ll look after you. Service is king, so refer for good service, retain their loyalty.
5. Customer Service Wins every time
You know what they say; good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster. Keep reminding yourself and your team about why this business started, what your vision is and why customers matter. Who pays the wages? Enough said. Look after your customers, and they will look after you.
6. Specialise in what you’re good at.
Here at the Bowdon Rooms we are really good at Weddings, event planning and management, live music programming and teaching dance. That’s what we do. Well. Very well. We are not so good at accounts, so we use Tax Assist. We use Herb & Spice onsite for a fabulous team of chefs and menu design and we use Portland Wines of Hale to build our wine offering. So, by focusing on what we are good at, it is easier to keep improving customer service.
7. Give a little bit
We run choirs in conjunction with Lucy from The Music Place in Altrincham. After I saw a documentary about how the brain can be positively affected by music, especially for those living with dementia, I knew it was something we had to do. It is just 2 hours every week, and we have around 40 locals coming to us who are living with dementia, or have suffered a stroke or have Parkinsons. It’s beautiful. Music can make such a difference.
8. Work on your business
You’ve heard it a thousand times. Walk away, take a break, think outside the box etc etc. Does it work, of course it does ! Just do it. Don’t get so involved, you get bogged down. Don’t get demoralised by the depth, think of the breadth. Why did you start the business ? To give you freedom from something. Because you believed in something. Just remind yourself why you started, retain the passion, and inspire others.
9. Know your game
Know your game, and know your gameplan. Are you mass market, or are you niche ? Are you Aldi or are you Waitrose ? Who do you want to walk through your door and say, “Man, I love what you guys are doing”. If you don’t know, how can you expect your customers to?
10. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you
I’m not talking IQ, I’m talking passion, I’m talking customer service and I’m taking people who will go the extra mile. Get the right team, the rest just becomes a little easier, and the customer becomes a whole lot happier – and satisfied. And guess what, they’ll talk and talk about you.
11. There is no reason not to follow your heart (Steve Jobs, Apple)
In your head, there are a million reasons, but they are just excuses. If you want it, you’ll find a way. Don’t be afraid to seek help, to make mistakes, to fall. Surround yourself with positivity, get a coach, keep questioning, keep learning.
12. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail
My all time favourite, learnt at a very early age in retail management and I still question myself every day, and hold my team meetings with this in mind. We are running huge events, we are managing people’s wedding days. So we have to keep asking ourselves, What could possibly go wrong ? And we then prepare diligently so it doesn’t.