By Gillian McKenzie
And it’s fair to say it’s been quite a 12 months for the operator.
Not only did Nick complete the six-month intensive programme run by Entrepreneurial Scotland, which included eight weeks at Babson College in Boston, graduating at the end of February, he also continued to run his business – from the USA for two months – and put in place steps to expand it on his return.
Looking back, he described the past year as “full on”; but he said the Saltire Fellowship has helped shape the development of his business, which will see him open a 7 Saints outlet in a former bank in the Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock this summer.
“It was incredible; the opportunities I had to interact with businesses in the US were amazing,” Nick told SLTN.
“Obviously it was different business sectors, a lot of technology companies, so I made the most of it. I went to a microbrewery and to bars and restaurants to experience the hospitality industry in Boston – the standard of service, what the trends are there; it was a real eye-opener.
“I have a business brain rather than an academic one so I was a bit worried about the college part at the start but it wasn’t swallowing a textbook and regurgitating it.
“The programme definitely taught me to think about things in a different way and I learnt a lot about how to deal and work with people. Our management meetings now are more interactive and I think I’m probably a little more calm than I used to be; I think I handle negatives better than I used to.”
Unfortunately that was put to the test when Nick returned from Boston last November.
A flurry of activity locally saw a number of new outlets opened and a couple of existing venues refurbished.
“It did have an impact,” said Nick, who launched 7 Saints – a Star Pubs & Bars leasehold – in June 2016.
“Sales last November and December were down on the previous year.
“One reaction would have been to slash prices, which some others did, but that’s not what we’re about. We looked at our service and point of difference and worked hard on that.
“Our new menu launched in January, new cocktails in February, and it just came back on like a tap.
“We’ve been growing since then – in February we had 18% like-for-like growth, March was good and April is going like a train.
“We’ve been trading for two years now and it’s on a sound financial footing, but that was hard.
“Learnings from the course definitely helped; that when you’ve built strong foundations, at the first sign of a wave don’t run for the life jacket. Stand strong on your values.”
Nick now plans to take those 7 Saints values ten miles up the road to Kilmarnock.
He is taking on the lease of a two-storey former bank on John Finnie Street and hopes to get started on the refurbishment next month; the new corner site venue will comprise a bar on the ground floor and a private room on the first floor, which will be used for cocktail masterclasses and other events.
“It will have the same food and drinks as here (Prestwick) and it will have a similar design but with its own identity,” he said
“All the ducks are lined up.
“If things go wrong we’ll open in September; if things go OK, then August; my goal is July.
“Kilmarnock has a similar customer base to here, just about 17,000 more of them.
“I’m really excited about it.”