Stories of Growth

Kevin Charity, The Coaching Inn Group: “Don’t let a lack of cash kill a brilliant idea”

As part of our Stories of Growth series, we hear from the founder of a fast-growing pub hotels group.

15 August 2022

BGF invested a total of £14.5 million in The Coaching Inn Group, to triple its portfolio of pub hotels before the business was acquired by RedCat Pub Company. In this interview, the company’s founder and CEO, Kevin Charity, discusses The Coaching Inn Group’s impressive growth, and offers his advice for entrepreneurs.

Kevin Charity, Founder and CEO of The Coaching Inn Group

I started washing dishes but over time progressed to buy my own pub; then I started my own company and bought more pubs. I got up to 15 premises, and in 2006, I had an epiphany. I thought bedrooms would make a great addition to food and beverage, so I tried to find pubs with rooms. That morphed into thinking that the best pubs with rooms were actually more like small hotels – and so, The Coaching Inn Group was born.

At that time, other pub operators were wary of adding bedrooms to their properties – they saw a capital issue whereas I saw an additional revenue source. I started to develop our niche: The Coaching Inn Group would stick to market towns as opposed to cities; offer high quality, fresh food in a relaxed atmosphere; and aim to be ‘the best venue in town’. About 80% of our food and beverage trade comes from locals, but obviously the bedroom trade comes from out of towners. The combination works really well.

Historic portfolio

In 2015, BGF invested £4.5 million and went on to provide £10 million of follow-on funding. With their help, we went from six sites to 18. In 2021, the time was right to take the business to the next stage. We were acquired by RedCat Pub Company, an investment vehicle that provides funding to the UK pub sector.

I’m still running the business, and we’re still growing. Today, we have 32 coaching inns spread across the country. They include historic buildings such as the Talbot Hotel in Oundle, which dates back to the 16th century.

The Talbot Hotel, part of The Coaching Inn Group

Can-do attitude

I was 16 when I started working in pubs. I came straight out of school with no qualifications. My views on education have since changed and I see the value of it now. But back then, let’s just say my schooling was a let-down.

Luckily for me, my parents were very entrepreneurial. They came from working-class backgrounds but both took chances and had can-do attitudes. They let me try things and encouraged my creativity.

I remember I used to work on a market stall and the owner was planning a trip to a trade fair. I asked my dad for three days off school so I could go. He said yes, because even though academically it would be of little value, he knew it would help me a lot entrepreneurially.

My parents had a café and I worked there. They always encouraged me to chat to customers, and to give that little bit more. From a young age, I learned to communicate well with customers.

“It takes hard work, guts and determination”

I love the people and passion in pubs. It takes hard work, guts and determination, but you can create a serious business with lots of personality. I love this industry because it is so creative. One of our mantras is: people over process. You need processes to make things work, especially at scale, but never forget your people.

Of course, there have been bumps in the road but, as an entrepreneur, I expect those. I’m not complacent but I try to take things in my stride. Interestingly, the business flourished during the last recession. People were getting choosier about where they spent their money because it was precious, so having a premium offer was an advantage. They wanted to spend their hard-earned cash on quality.

When seas were stormy

I first met BGF at a networking event. I liked their approach, which was respectful not pushy. It was clear they had a different view to other investors because they represent patient equity. Their hands-off approach on the day-to-day running was brilliant, but we were also grateful for their support.

BGF have always set up networking opportunities with other portfolio companies or useful contacts. They introduced us to our non-executive chair, Andrew Guy. Andrew managed restaurant brands such as Ed’s Easy Diner. He left us in 2020 after five years’ service to be replaced by Denis Wormwell, the former chairman of VisitEngland.

It was helpful to have a BGF investment director on the board, particularly when seas were stormy. We entered the COVID pandemic with a good cash balance, so we weren’t panicking, but even so, BGF were clear they would help if needed, though it wasn’t needed in the end.

“It was helpful to have a BGF investment director on the board, particularly when seas were stormy”

We have been in the Sunday Times Top 100 Employers ranking a few times. In 2021, we came in at 21. To be 21st in the top 100 Best Companies to Work For is impressive, and that’s during a COVID year, as voted by our people. COVID set us back, but we have come out of it stronger.

Stick to your knitting

I think one of the skills I have, which I really value, is a clear way of organising things in my mind. Others may see chaos, but I can look at something and see how it can be delivered quickly and efficiently. It’s about systems, and seeing how they work to deliver results.

My passion is my family. I was a young father and now have four grandsons. I work with my two sons and that is an absolute pleasure. They are two brilliant lads who have earned their own respect within the organisation.

My advice to other entrepreneurs is to stick to your knitting. Did we diversify into takeaway food during Covid? No, I thought, let’s stick to what we do best and reopen when we can. Don’t go off on tangents and never drop your quality or standard. Remember that cash is king. You need profit to pay for the things you need, so always keep a good cash reserve. Don’t let a lack of cash kill a brilliant idea.

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