December/January 2020

Manchester Hospitality Network

GM Business Connect meet a lot of businesses and attended many events in and around Manchester. There was one person that we kept on bumping into and that was Becky Wilkes, Senior Sales and Marketing Manager for 20 Stories restaurant situated in the lofty heights of Spinningfields. Becky is also a founder and board member of Manchester Hospitality Network, which has changed networking in the city. We invited Becky to share her view of the Manchester Hospitality Sector with an interview which we recorded and from which created a podcast and video for our website.

Tell us about your role at 20 Stories?
“I am the senior sales and marketing manager of the north for D&D London. It’s a huge international company with restaurants here in Manchester, London, Leeds, New York, Tokyo and Paris. I oversee the North of the UK with 20 stories restaurant in Manchester along with four restaurants in Leeds.”

Manchester Hospitality Network Greg Maguire, Becky Wilkes, Charlotte Felton, Jake Ogden

Can you tell us about Manchester Hospitality Network? How you started it – and who you started it with?
“It’s run by myself, Greg McGuire who oversees the Revolution de Cuba group, Jake Ogden from Manchester Confidential and Charlotte Felton from Impossible. It came about from a Facebook group comprising Sales and Business people from Manchester bars and restaurants. The group ran business referrals, plus offered support between the Manchester hospitality sector – a network of people that helped and supported each other. The group also found out where the hospitality networking events were happening that week. A lot of BDMs and Sales Mangers do in fact have KPI’s where they need to attend at least two networking events each week. Jake and Greg were the administrators of that group and they approached me last year to turn it into a more formal arrangement. We wanted to be more of a support network for the Manchester hospitality sector, and also for the future BDMs in that sector.

“So, we launched with a huge party of course at Lock Hotels late last year, which was a massive success. Over 500 people were there, including the press and notable influencers in the sector. Since then arrange monthly meetings, still run the Facebook group, and we also do educational events too. For instance, we recently had a panel event featuring Shaun Hinds from Manchester Central, Thom Hetherington who does consultancy work, plus a great range of participants discussing the future of the sector along with issues that everyone is facing at the moment. We’re also large enough (approximately 1,200 members to date) to offer support when restaurants close. It’s always sad when that happens but there are so many new opportunities happening. For instance, when Manchester House and Artisan closed people were posting they needed staff in all areas. The network is very supportive. Last year when MAD group went into administration about 80% of the affected staff managed to secure new work through the network. We work really closely with Abi Dunn from Sixty Eight People who are specialist hospitality recruiters based in Manchester.”

What kind of businesses are involved with Manchester Hospitality Network?
“We have two categories of members. The first are those who are involved directly with the sector – BDMs, Sales Managers, and then you’ve got those who are involved with hospitality, for instance recruiters, suppliers, it might be press who focus on hospitality. We say as long as there is a connection to hospitality you’re welcome to join.”

Tell us more about the Facebook group and your own membership options?
“We offer a closed Facebook group and we also have membership of the network itself. This is a paid for subscription but for the investment we run regular networking and educational and support events. We also offer business introductions. One of the things we ask all new members is whether they’ll be happy to go on our database to be contacted directly by other members. This creates a common catalogue that all members have access to. For example, if you are a regular event booker, rather than phoning restaurants blindly we will give you a list of contact names and numbers of every restaurant in our network. Also, there is the option of attending all our events whether you’re a member or not. However, if you are a member then attendance is free. We charge a fee to non-members. Saying that, many people attend our events for the first time as non-members to see how they are. In fact, the last event I attended of the 125 guests only 20 were people I’d met before, and I’ve been in the industry for 14 years now. We seem be attracting fresh interest at every event, targeting people who want to know more about the industry.”

Is the network exclusive to the City Centre?
“Absolutely not, there are many great venues in the suburbs and we actively encourage people in the entire Greater Manchester region to look at the network. We want to encourage and support as many people as possible.”

We have talked about collaboration. Are there any specific businesses that you are looking to work with?
“There aren’t any specific types of businesses we are looking for, rather, they have to tie in with the hospitality sector to not just add to the network but get a positive experience from it. Every event that we have done has been at a new venue each time. We are effectively introducing that venue into the Manchester hospitality scene. We were the first event hosted by Flight Club and Manahatta. It’s important we support and in turn collaborate with new venues as well as established businesses.”

There seems to be a lot of people moving around jobs within the Manchester hospitality sector. Why do you think that’s the case?
“I’d say it’s a mix of a lot of new openings, and a lot of headhunting! There’s a number of London businesses moving to Manchester and they seem to be prepared to offer generally more money that Manchester businesses. It’s just progression as well. I always think that when you stop learning in your present role, you’re ready for a change.”

How do people get involved with Manchester Hospitality Network?
“Our website is a good start. There’s a full list of forthcoming events there, and also opportunity to directly join the Network. We’re also on Instagram, twitter and Facebook – follow us to find out more.”

Can you tell us about how you get the best results in your role in business development?
“I think a lot of people don’t really understand the role of business development. I’d suggest the job description certainly in the hospitality sector has developed over the last few years into more of a sales and marketing role. Business is automatically developed when you apply your sales strategy along with your marketing strategy. Social Media is crucial. There is so much engagement that goes on online that you must be a part of this activity – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’d say Facebook’s dying down a little bit and Twitter is more of a corporate audience. Instagram however is your next generation and younger generation choice and I’d advise any business to get involved. I’d make sure the content is lifestyle, relatable and fun! People don’t want to see too many words.

“In terms of personal business development, you simply must get out there and meet people. Not just meet but develop an ongoing relationship with people. From a business point of view, we buy into the person in that business, we don’t just buy into the business itself. I also think if you love doing what you do it shows. It’s no use if you don’t like the venue you’re working for, you need to believe in it – people will see that and believe in it too. It’s important to develop your business network of people, and if there’s anyone you haven’t met yet just reach out to them using LinkedIn or Navigator. Find them, invite them in, show them who you are and get to know them as people. It’s important to develop relationships and don’t go too ‘Salesy’ I’d say.”

What sort of things influence a venue’s success or failure?
“There has been an incredible list of closures over the past year or two, particularly in the City Centre, however, there have been many reasons these have happened. From a parent business going into administration, to increased rents and licencing issues. Couple these with seasonal influences – the weather is a good example. When it’s sunny, 20 Stories do really well because of our roof terrace, yet Schloss will do well in the winter. Another influence is what’s happening in the City. When there’s a big Arena concert or big event at Manchester Central, we all do well from the increased footfall in the City. Also, what happens in the rest of the world has an impact – if you’re not showing world cup games live then you’re going to be quieter. Looking back at the closures there are also fresh starts, new businesses opening up. And not just for the new businesses but for the established ones branding is very important. People need to see a strong and consistent brand. I get a lot of business through LinkedIn, where it’s important that your brand features strongly and you’re also engaging with your contacts. Planning is also crucial. You have to start talking about Christmas in July. Let everyone know well in advance what your business is planning.”

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