Tuesday, May 3, 2016

20 Year Reflections | Elaine Clarke | CEO of Baa Bar

2016 is a big year for The Women’s Organisation – it marks our 20th birthday and we have plenty of interesting and exciting things lined up throughout the year to celebrate this! And some fantastic interviews will be part of this! To mark our 20th birthday, throughout 2016 we will be interviewing some incredible women and sharing their stories with you. These women may have been long-time supporters of The Women’s Organisations, women who accessed our support during our very early years, women who have been instrumental in the development of the organisation and gender equality as a whole, or simply women who we think are frankly marvellous, and want to know more about!

We hope that you enjoy these interviews throughout 2016 and can celebrate with us the incredible lives and journeys of the women that we interview. This series of interviews will be called ’20 Year Reflections’ and we always want to hear your thoughts and views! Join in the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #WOWeAre20

And check out our previous interview with Vickie Anderson of Liverpool Cheese Company and Lauren Greene of Chic PR & Events…This latest interview is with Elaine Clarke, the bar and nightclub powerhouse of the North West

‘Elaine Clarke is a perfect example of how hard work, tenacity and determination can change your life’

Above is the first line of Elaine Clarke’s biography, it’s a strong statement but one The Women’s Organisation knows to be completely and utterly true. We met with Elaine last month to speak about her journey to success and how she has changed the shape of the nightlife industry in the North of England over the last thirty years…

Elaine Clarke

And it started, as most good stories do, at one of the hearts of Liverpool city centre, Bold Street. When Elaine was just 14 she began working at the Café Tabac which was then owned by her Aunty. ‘I was a Saturday girl, and I did that for a couple of years. Then when I left school at 16 I carried on. I felt quite lucky to go straight into employment. I remember my first hourly was £1.20 and I was only making a tenner a day!’ It was here at Tabac that Elaine was approached to run a new bar and venue that was to be opening up on Fleet Street, the first ever Baa Bar.

Cafe Tabac on Bold Street
‘I was only 23 when I became Managing Director of Baa Bar back in 1991. Back then it used to be just pubs and clubs, so really Baa Bar was the first of its type, purely a bar. And it was great. It became like an institution, the place was full all the time for years and we were doing really well, averaging about £20,000 every week.

It was after a few years of managing Fleet Street Baa Bar that Elaine began to think about how she could expand and grow, tapping into the market of £1 bottles and making Baa Bar the largest seller of Stella in Europe; ‘We used to sell tonnes! But there are only so many bottles of Stella that you can drink, so we came up with the idea of £1 shots or shooters as we called them. Overnight our sales doubled. We were taking £46,000 a week, it was incredible.’

And in 1997, another bar was opened by Elaine and the Urban Splash team; Roccoco Modo – now known as MODO which brought an ever evolving edge to the Concert Square nightlife. 

‘MODO was more about a lounge style, with more cocktails. We had all kinds of eclectic designs & different concepts within a concept in there when it began; from a Japanese noodle bar, chandeliers and fish tanks’ But Elaine knew  at Concert Square wanted and needed; ‘It was lovely, but all of the extra things were becoming a nightmare. In the end I just said, forget the newspapers, and forget the continental pastries. Let’s just turn the music up. Our sales rocketed. On our best day ever we took £50,000’ & best week £109,000

Baa Bar Victoria Street, Liverpool

‘It was then that I asked the guys at Urban Splash for more shares. I had 5% but I wanted to own more. They set me targets to hit over three years, which I hit within the first year. In the end I ended up owning 20% of the company and MODO was through the roof. We decided to open up new venues and launch Baa Bar as a brand.’

From a £250,000 turnover in 1991 to a £10.5m in 2011, the portfolio of bars in now eleven strong, including eight under the Baa Bar brand and employs a total of 340 staff. Net assets of the business now stand at over £2.4m and the company has four venues in Manchester, five in Liverpool, one in Nottingham and one in Leeds.

But of course, with such high stakes and so many different venues to look after, there had to be some challenges for Elaine and her team, and she admits things have become more difficult over the last couple of years. ‘More recently, everyone’s tastes have changed & the landscape has evolved. Now people want more funky little places, more of the hideaway bars and less of the big clubs and bars. Also people tend to go out a lot later than they used to and things like that have affected us a lot.’

Elaine also made the big decision to restructure the business with the bank in 2015 Baa Bar.

‘I’ve got a new business partner, Andy Donaldson who was our Financial Controller for several years and he’s great. I’ve waited 25 years to find that great partner to work with, and now I’ve got it. We’ve got a new direction and we’re looking at rebranding the business. I get to be creative and come up with new ideas. Now we own 100% of the business and it’s the start of another exciting journey’

So what is Elaine’s secret? It’s the old age question of ‘How does she do it?’, and one we were keen to find out. ‘It’s all about having objectives’, she told us; ‘We want to be one of the best companies to work for and a big part of the Baa Bar idea is about bringing the talent of the team out. It took me a long time to realise that really it was all about the people and how to work with them and make sure everyone complements each other.’

MODO, Liverpool
‘Of course it can be a bit of a challenge and especially for me, the training aspect. In terms of staff turnover it can be really tough when you invest a lot of time and money into training someone and then they go off and work somewhere else. But that’s all about your culture; we try to make sure that they don’t want to leave.’

And she’s succeeded, with a 340 strong team and 11 venues, it’s clear that the Baa Bar brand and its values and ethos’s have taken a place of the nightlife industry, and won’t be moved. Chief Executive of Baa Bar, Elaine is an incredibly busy individual, with her time spent overseeing the business and operations and using everything that she has learnt over the past 25 years of Baa Bar to further progress the brand.

Elaine first came into contact with The Women’s Organisation back when we were known as Blackburne House for business advice and to attend our business planning courses, and has stayed in touch with the organisation and particularly our CEO; Maggie O’Carroll ever since.

‘The Women’s Organisation or Train 2000 as I first knew them just understands the important things about business. It was great back when I first found out about it, and it’s great now. I’ve always associated Train 2000b with Maggie, she is one of the most genuine, down to earth people I’ve ever met and it’s been great to have that over the years.’

It’s been one huge journey for Elaine, and the future is looking just as big for Baa Bar. And for Elaine; ‘I’d love to do just five more years, but during that time we’re going to get creative. Now I’ve got Baa Bar, Bumper, Modo, Tabac and Frederik’s, it’s a massive challenge and I’d love to be able to hand the baton over and go with my head held high.’

‘For me, the measure of success is the business to carry on a legacy after I have gone.’


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