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A networking culture helped substitute competition for community

Steven Hawkes has found there is a lot to be learnt by having the discipline to step out of the day-to-day of a business

Turning round an underperforming business is never easy, but Steven Hawke is using the help of people running similar companies to make the challenge a little more manageable.

Located in Truro, just off the Cornish coast, The Norway Inn has been in business since the 1800s. Six months ago, the pub was losing thousands of pounds every week – but its new owners are turning it around.

Steven Hawke, The Norway Inn’s general manager, is concentrating on consistency. The inn has an “up and down” reputation, so he’s gone back to basics and is trying to do the small things well.

“Since we came in, we’ve tried to focus on the quality of food and the customer service experience. Beforehand, there was none of that. We’ve also tried to improve the bar experience – people used to pay two prices for two different service levels. Now it’s table service everywhere,” Hawke said.

The inn’s positioning on a main road is a blessing and a curse – everyone knows about it, but people have to drive there because it’s not in a village. With increased competition from pubs and restaurants in neighbouring Truro and Falmouth, Hawke turned to Be the Business to learn more about the local hospitality industry.

Start learning by listening

Hawke grew up around pubs, first picking up bar work when he was 15 years-old. After a stint in the navy, he moved into the general manager role at Truro’s The Victoria Inn for nine years. The company director was involved in local networking initiatives organised by Be the Business, so Hawke started going to workshops.

“We’d mainly benefit from listening to other people,” he said. “I’m always looking to learn, so I enjoy going to networking events and listening to other people and hearing their experiences.”

At Be the Business seminars, Hawke has worked on becoming more vocal. In particular, he’s tried to improve his mindset towards public speaking by throwing himself into the deep end and speaking in front of CEOs and directors.

Building up a local network

Hawke has been introduced to other contacts in the Cornish hospitality industry through Be the Business action learning groups, which have helped build up a local community. Getting to know his peers has helped with benchmarking exercises at The Norway Inn and provided an opportunity to actively solve problems.

“There are eight of us that meet every six to eight weeks,” he explained. “Someone will volunteer to talk about a problem they’ve experienced and they’ll have five minutes to explain it. At the end of the five minutes, we’ll ask questions or make suggestions to get them thinking. We’ll also always look back at the previous session to see if the person actioned or changed anything.”

Having a local community has been a great help to the business, he added. In the past, hotel owners in Cornwall would see each other as competition. The normalisation of networking has helped to change that – now, there’s a conscious effort to get on and help each other.

Push yourself to find the time

The most common barrier to networking tends to be the lack of time. There’s always something to do or a new fire that needs putting out, so the idea of taking a step back and assessing your decisions can feel like a luxury.

It’s an attitude that Hawke’s familiar with. But since becoming involved in action learning groups with fellow hospitality leaders, he believes taking a step out of the business now and again is crucial.

“Everyone says they don’t have time,” he said. “You need to find the time. When you’re working in the business, you just constantly do what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis. But when you hear other people’s perspectives, you look at your business differently.”

Hawke admits that, as a general manager, he always thought everything he did was right. But since beginning to look at other businesses and hearing different opinions, he’s broadened his perspective.

One of the biggest lessons learnt so far is the value stepping out of the business not just mentally, but also physically. A member of his action learning group suggested holding the meetings at their own offices or over Skype, but it didn’t work as well.

“If you’re sat in your office, you’re not removed from the business,” Hawke explained. “You can’t turn off or forget about things if you’re there.”

Looking to the future

Hawke is focused on the continued transformation of The Norway Inn. In particular, he wants to develop an efficient workforce who will keep service quick and at a high quality.

“We want a multi-skilled team,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of members of staff I can use in both the kitchen and front of house, which really helps when we’re in trouble or busy. It goes back to keeping things consistent – it’s useful to have staff who can help out across the business.”

Learn about how making sure outside influences drive business performance is so important.

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