When Ben Carroll and Hamish Watts started Applejack Hospitality 10 years ago the pair had ambitious plans for growth of the group.

Ten years on and that desire to keep building and keep creating successful and popular venues where staff like working and patrons like visiting has not diminished.

“Hamish and I started Bondi Hardware 10 years ago and our plan was to do five venues in five years, which we achieved. In fact I think we had six venues in five years,” Ben told Bars and Clubs.

“Then it actually came up just before the pandemic that our goal was to double the size of the company in the next five years and we’re on track to do that. We’re also on track to do that without having any crowdfunding or private equity, anything like that, which a lot of companies have had to do.

“It’s still just the two of us in Hamish and I and we’ve grown organically over the last 10 years. And fortunately over the years we haven’t taken on much debt, which has enabled us to be in a really strong cashflow position.

“So the purpose of growing is not about profit, it’s not about revenue. It’s about having a bigger share in hospitality and particularly in Sydney. By growing it means we can offer more opportunities to our people, we can promote more junior people within our company into more senior roles, we just want to create more opportunities.”

He added: “We also want to be a bigger part of the communities that we are in, we just love what we do. So while growth does mean more revenue and more profit, it only means that so we can continue to do what we love doing and continue to take our teams with us.”

There are many challenges that come with targeting that kind of growth, not least coming up with the concepts and ideas for venues that will work in the markets and locations they are placed. But Ben told Bars and Clubs this is one of the areas where he and Hamish work well together.

“I’ve got a strong marketing background and understanding target markets and communities and Hamish is great with concepts and ideas and the really creative angel. One of us will come up with an idea and then we just brainstorm it and workshop it, so while it is challenging, we also love doing it.”

That passion and love for the industry, for staff and to have venues that offer the best for people is something that is just front and centre when talking with Ben about the group and hospitality in general.

This is seen in the loyalty program that Applejack has introduced, which gives customer rewards points, but also makes in-venue ordering easier as well.

Ben explained: “There’s an Applejack app in the App Store and that has all our venues listed on it. We can send a notification to say here’s a $10 voucher or a free cocktail at Bopp & Tone, or we can give away tickets to our comedy night at Forrester’s, or other notifications like that.

“Then when you’re in venue you can order through the app and the app enables you to get discounts. It also enables you to get loyalty points for every dollar you spend and you can redeem your points for cash or drinks over the bar.

“It’s also a platform for all our staff and we’ve got training programs on there, our rostering system is on their and it’s the way we communicate with all our staff. So it’s created this community and with the staff all being comfortable using it they can inform customers about it and tell them how to use it and get rewards from it.

“We launched it in November and it’s doing extremely well. Rewards programs like these are nothing new but it hasn’t really been done in hospitality except for the buy 10 coffees get one free card that you put a hole in. I think it’s crazy that more people in our industry are doing rewards programs, they aren’t looking after the loyalty of their customers.”

He adds: “Everyone talks about customer and community loyalty. Well this is one of the first things you can do and it’s not really happening. So that’s a bit surprising but it does mean there is a great opportunity for those people who are first and there’s only a few companies doing it at the moment.”

For more on how Applejack has shaped its venues to trade in the pandemic, head to Bars and Clubs.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of TheShout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both TheShout and Bars and Clubs.

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