Butlins isn’t just for kids

We’ve all been to Butlins when we were kids, haven’t we? Fond memories of the beach, ice cream, red coats and long summer days. I was delighted to find that the business is still going as strong as ever, and now partnered up with Haven Holiday Parks and Warner Hotels to make the Bourne Leisure group. Even better I was invited to work with their head office team on 2 projects over the last 18 months and this blog reflects on that experience and what I learnt from it.

Bourne Leisure is a big business, with 54 sites around the UK, and 300 or so restaurant and catering operations within them, so a sizeable food supply chain. The projects I led for them gave me significant exposure to their supply chain operations, supplier network, approach to supplier and product due diligence and allergen management control. It was a thoroughly enjoyable period working with the team there, and I learnt so much that I could take into future projects with other clients. In particular the following stand out.

1.       Understanding the client, their culture, and ways of working really paid off. They have a fabulous culture, where putting the guest first is at the heart of everything they do and looking after their teams and enabling them to grow is also paramount. As a consultant or interim coming in, I had to feel genuinely capable of embracing their culture as it would guide me into the way the teams work together. I took it as a compliment that the challenge towards the end of the project was to extract myself and hand it over as business as usual as the team were getting too comfortable with me being there.

2.       Being flexible and positive got us through lockdown. I doubt any of us have seen changes and challenges like those we have faced over the last 7 months. Lockdown and the closure of all hospitality venues had the potential to stop all the project work dead, overnight. That wasn’t good for the long term of the business, nor my cash flow! Taking a flexible approach meant changing focus where needed and staying positive to invest my time in keeping those aspects of the project progressing where I could, whilst parking others. As a result, when the teams returned, we were able to pick things back up from a walking (albeit not running) position rather than it having stood still.

3.       Resilience wins the day, eventually! There were many twists and turns in one of the projects, and often it was like Pandora’s box. We had to maintain our focus on the end game and treat each new challenge as an opportunity to learn something we didn’t understand yet, even when the computer said “no”, literally.

4.       It’s OK to put all your eggs in one basket, sometimes. As the project continued, I found that I was allocating more and more of my time on it, until it was pretty much my main commitment. I was enjoying the work, liked the people I was working with and looking forward to delivering a result, so why not commit all my efforts to it? Another project would come along when this one wound up, wouldn’t it?

I must admit, I think I got lucky with a great project, in a good business with nice people at a most horrible time in the industry (and indeed society). It’s not always like that, but my reflections on my time at Bourne Leisure are rather like those childhood holiday memories. You look back on them fondly and they get you through more challenging times to come.