Life & Soul is a multi-site hospitality operator based in Cheshire. Its directors previously ran the DV8 cocktail bars brand and following the sale of two sites last year established Life & Soul as a new entity. The company has flourished since, with its Rumba Macclesfield venue claiming the Best Turnaround prize at the prestigious Great British Pub Awards 2017.
We caught up with Managing Director Martin Holmes – who has been using S4Labour in his sites since early 2016 – to discuss his business, its development, and how S4Labour helps drive its sustained success.
Can we have a quick introduction to your business?
We currently run three venues in Cheshire. At the core of the business is the Rumba brand, two wet-led sites offering cocktails to a lively crowd. We also operate The Castle Inn, a destination country pub with an emphasis on fresh, local, quality food. We’re growing fast and are in the process of opening a third Rumba, the biggest yet with a more developed food offer, as well as a fine dining restaurant, Cloud View, also in Cheshire.
How was the company founded and developed to its current form?
Chris Carsons, our CEO opened the first DV8 Bar in 2008. I have known Chris for around 12 years, but our paths crossed again in 2015 through my audit work. Together, we quickly saw the potential of the business, adding sites and developing the Rumba concept. Last year we took the decision to sell the DV8 sites to focus on Rumba. We’re still eager to operate quality venues outside of Rumba when the right opportunities arise, so took on the lease to the Castle Inn just outside Congleton. It’s a traditional country pub on the fringes of the Staffordshire Moorlands, and is equally popular with tourists and the local crowd. It’s been a great success so far, with like for like sales up 40% since we took over.
How is the business structured today?
We try to keep a flat structure, with lots of communication between the sites and senior management, and management taking an active interest in operations at site level. We’ve been investing in our infrastructure to allow for future growth, so have recently appointed two accounts administrators to bring our payroll in house, but wherever possible we promote internally. Since we started out, 90% of the appointments to management positions in our sites have been internal promotions, and we’re very proud of that.
What makes Life & Soul unique and successful?
We’ve always worked with a passion for delivering exceptional food, drink, and service, and it’s a mantra we embrace at all time, whether it’s 1AM on a Friday night in Rumba, or the middle of Sunday lunch service in the Castle Inn. We recognise that people are at the heart of this, so always aim to build great relationships with everyone from our bar staff, to our suppliers, to our landlords at Punch Taverns. We know how hard our teams work, so reward staff with trips to trade shows and the football, and give our managers a fund to spend on visiting other hospitality venues for inspiration. This means that we have very low employee turnover, especially in management positions – we’ve had one manager leave in three years – and as a result have a highly skilled and motivated workforce, dedicated to bringing special experiences to our customers. This was recognised in our category victory at the Great British Pub Awards last year, which was a fantastic reward for the hard work of everyone in our business.
What led you to decide that an advanced labour management solution would be of benefit to Life & Soul?
When we started out everything was very basic, with our labour managed using pen and paper and Excel spreadsheets. While that may have worked in the old days, it became clear that to build a business capable of expanding and thriving in the 21st century we needed to engage intelligent, modern systems across our operations.
What led you to decide that S4Labour was the best option?
After researching the market, I decided to implement Bleep EPoS across our sites. The people at Bleep recommended S4Labour as a great system for reducing costs, saving time, and giving insight into operations across multiple sites. From the first demonstration I could see that it would be a critical tool in our future.
What other tools do you use in your business, and how have these been able to operate alongside, or been enhanced by, S4Labour?
The integration between S4Labour and our Bleep till systems has been a real asset, as it removes the task of manually entering sales into reports for our managers, and gives us detailed insight into sales by hour across all areas of our sites. We also manage our time and attendance through the integrated system, with staff clocking in and out on the EPoS terminals and S4Labour highlighting discrepancies from their scheduled shifts. It’s a massive improvement on our previous timesheet process.
The payroll exports we take from S4Labour conveniently feed our payroll process, making sure everyone gets paid correctly. Also, the reports we get from our reservation software reinforce what S4Labour shows us about busy and quiet times in our sites, allowing us to best deploy staff.
How have processes changed as a result of using S4Labour?
We have a group of very bright, young, enthusiastic managers who have really taken to S4Labour. Administrative time has been massively reduced with the removal of manual processes, and the engagement of hourly-paid staff with their roles has been improved by giving employees access to their rotas and holiday management tools online. From a head office perspective, we have been given such clarity of insight into our operations that we are able to make top level decisions with real confidence.
How has your experience been with S4Labour’s HR Module?
The HR Module has been a relatively recent introduction for us, and we’re in the process of transitioning to use the full functionality, but it’s evident that it’s a really useful tool. Bringing all HR documentation into one online space is a huge benefit, and the digital contracts are a particularly valuable feature. Disciplinary issues and grievances are very rare in our business, but the tools for managing them online will be very welcome when they do arise.
How has your relationship been with individuals within S4Labour?
Having a support desk service at S4Labour seven days a week is a real benefit, and the support staff have always been very helpful and timely in their responses. We’ve been working closely with our account manager Tobias recently, and I can’t fault his knowledge or effort. I know he comes from an operational background with some very good companies, so we always feel his guidance comes from a wealth of relevant experience.
What’s next for Life & Soul?
Expansion is very much in our sights. We’re making good progress on the new Rumba and Cloud View sites and have our eyes open for more opportunities. With the help of S4Labour, our core infrastructure is in such good shape that we believe we’re in a position to add three or four further sites in the next few years. We don’t want to grow so fast we prejudice the high standards we pride ourselves on setting, but we’re confident that we’ve done the groundwork that will allow us to react quickly when the right opportunities do arise.
How do you plan to use S4Labour in the future to further improve processes and drive ongoing success?
We will continue the work we have started to streamline our HR processes through S4Labour, and as we add more sites will doubtless benefit from the easy visibility of trading conditions across the estate it brings, as well as the functionalities, like employee transfers, specifically designed for multi-site operators. The cost-saving aspect of S4Labour will continue to promote our profitability through the next few years and hopefully beyond.
What challenges do you face?
We’re generally pretty confident that we have our business in condition to deal with whatever tomorrow brings, but like most, we’re currently feeling the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. We may well see a labour shortage in the big cities, which would have a knock-on affect for the wider industry, so we’ll have to continue to ensure that working for us is an attractive prospect for the most talented individuals. Rents, business rates, and commodity costs are all on the rise, so keeping our labour spend down without compromising service, which S4Labour allows us to do, is a real benefit to us.
What advice would you give another operator that was looking to engage S4Labour?
I would certainly recommend it. There’s no way we could be doing what we are today without S4Labour. I would advise them to take a detailed and honest look at their current processes and identify the areas S4Labour could save them time and money. With the value of the savings across single and multiple sites and the quality of insight the reports give, the decision should be a simple one.
Are you able to give any tangible figures for savings you’ve achieved by using S4Labour?
I can say that we have comfortably saved 5% on our labour bill. It’s hard to put a cash figure on that as our number of sites has been fluid over the last couple of years, but it’s safe to say that the financial and time savings have been a significant factor in our success.