Louise MacLean

Interview: Louise MacLean of Signature Pubs – a day in the life

Louise MacLean, head of sales, marketing and PR at the Signature Pub Group, is an industry veteran having started as a graduate trainee with United Distillers and Vintners (now Diageo) nearly 20 years ago.

After stints in commercial sales and lending within the brewing industry with Coors and Inbev, she joined C & C, owners of Tennent’s and Caledonia Best, graduating into managing a team of junior and senior sales personnel within the Scottish independent drinks market.

There she spent a couple of years in marketing working on the Innovation Team, creating, developing and ultimately launching new brands to the UK market through a variety of channels. Some of these were successful after launch, some weren’t, and some despite a grand plan, insight and development did not make it off the “cutting room floor”!

Louise was involved with the launch of Heverlee, a Belgian Pilsner from Leuven, which is a very popular premium lager in Scotland now. Her remit was how to position the brand to the customer and the consumer, so once the liquid was agreed upon by the brewers, then the sales story had to be formed and a brand born.

Other product launches she was involved with included Hornsby’s American Hard Cider and Tennents Hee-Haw, the alcohol free lager.

Louise joined Signature Pubs Limited as their Heads of Sales, Marketing and PR in 2013.

Signature is an independent and thriving business in Scotland that has recently grown to own 16 hospitality units including The Rutland Hotel in Edinburgh and the newly acquired Spiritualist in Glasgow.

Louise says Signature tries to fly below the radar, and quietly strive for consistently excellent customer service, first class communication and marketing with consumers across a network of channels, and above all selling a quality product, every time in every venue.

We caught up with her and asked what a typical day looks like.

My day always starts around 6.30am with a good check of my emails; we are a hospitality business so a 9-5 mentality will not cut it!

Our General Managers often send notes or replies late at night so I read through these and note my actions and to-do list.

Between 7am-8.30am – I am a headless chicken/Mummy getting small people to school. Making it into the office can sometimes feel like a huge achievement after that daily pantomime!

I like to check in with my team and the general managers first thing. Knowing their schedules, pressure points and tasks means I can offer support and assistance where necessary.

I will have a daily catch up with the Operations Manager and normally my boss too to ensure my priority list matches theirs.

We analyse sales weekly to ensure the Sales and Marketing inputs are having the desired effect on the bottom line and that progress is being made. For example, when we open a new bar, it’s vital we check our competitors almost daily to see where we sit on the “bums on seats” scale.

Building a new business is a long process so small shoots of improvement really keep motivation high in all departments. I will often have meetings with the GM’s to see what their goals are, any areas of concern they have and what new initiatives we wish to implement.

So much of my role is reactive but it’s vital to have a sales plan and strategy to ensure there is a common vision of what success looks like and what we have to do to get there. I track trends, customer service perceptions, social media interaction and any changes in our product offering and working with a PR company means we can get any messages out quickly and succinctly.

No one really works 9-5 anymore so once the angels are in bed, I get back on top of the daily emails and have a good hour or two on all the social media platforms seeking inspiration from other countries and industries and watching what is happening in my own backyard – all from the comfort of my sofa!

Scotland is undergoing a surge of artisan gin production and and craft brewing. What part is Signature playing in the distribution of these products?

I like to think we were “early adopters”! My boss is a huge fan of craft beer and Scottish products so he was keen to get involved in this trend from the beginning.

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Through a chance meeting Alex Nicol, creator of Edinburgh Gin, brought his Edinburgh Gin Distillery to the Rutland Hotel which became Edinburgh’s West End’s first purpose built distillery.

There are 2 working stills and customers can visit, enjoy a tour, a tasting and purchase a whole hosts of gin based products from the on-site shop. This idea was born from my boss’s passion for Scottish artisan gin and Edinburgh Gin’s desire to find a new home in the city.

It has worked beautifully and the space is Edinburgh Gin’s distillery by day and then by night its Heads & Tales Gin Emporium, the bar we operate with a nod to all things juniper!

In addition to this we carry a huge range of craft gins from all over Scotland, both the mainland and the islands, many with unique botanicals that are specific to certain islands and others with ageing from whisky barrels.

We give our bar staff training on these brands and incentives to promote these to customers, offering them something new and a bit different from the norm.

With regards to draught craft beer, we are often approached by new breweries who are producing small batch and unusual beers that are fitting nicely into the rise of beer across the capital and other cities.

These brewers are making direct contact with our bar managers to talk about their beers, offer them support in various unique ways, such as brewer’s dinners, tap takeovers etc. and we are more than happy to support their endeavours.

It’s great to see these artisan gins and beers being made available, but is the Scottish public voting with their wallets? What sort of %age of your sales would be associated with these new products?

These artisan gins and beers are fairly new in the beverage sector, they have arrived with a bang and grown at an astonishing pace!

Indeed it has its own sector now. It’s acceptable, cool and on trend for a consumer to have amazing product knowledge and often opinions!

In the past it was “5 G&T’s with ice and a slice!” now it’s “ 3 Hendricks with cucumber and Fevertree Light, 2 Edinburgh Gin with Feverfree Elderflower and a wedge of grapefruit” etc!

There is still a place for mainstream and mainstream premium within the drinks sector but within food, our customers seek provenance and authenticity from the menu items we create in our kitchens.

Visit Scotland is hugely supportive with their recognisable Taste our Best accreditation. This is hard to secure and 80% of every menu must be traceable and supported by a provenance statement.

But it is so worth it as it builds consumer trust and confidence leading to more visits and longer dwell time which directly adds to the bottom line. In short, yes, they are voting with their wallets but they have expectations now, high ones that often change as new products come in to their view.

What next for Signature Pubs? Is it growth all the way? What do you have in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

2017 is the year of consolidation after such growth but we still have an eye out for any fantastic opportunities!

We want to make these investments work for us and implement some changes and small refurbishments where it is deemed appropriate and the demand is there.

2017 is going to be challenging with the rise in business rates, the further roll out of the living wage, the suggested introduction of the proposed “tourist tax” for Edinburgh and the economic fallout of Brexit with the costs of goods and services rising.

It is therefore vital we are ready for these challenges with a fantastic product in all the areas in which we operate and industry leading service and standards. I think this ought to keep us busy enough!