Lisa Wishart is the Managing Director of her family business Lisini Pub Co in Glasgow – which has developed from a pub business into arguably one of the most successful hospitality businesses in Lanarkshire. Lisa’s right-hand man is cousin Grant Hood while sister Siobhan Edwards also plays a key role in driving the business forward
The company, which now employs close to 300 people, has grown organically and now includes Dalziel Park, a 16-bedroomed hotel with golf course and wedding and conference facilities, The Parkville in Blantyre which also boasts wedding and conference facilities as well as five bedrooms and the newly-refurbished Angels – with six boutique bedrooms and a bustling restaurant and bar. It also operates the Castle Rooms and owns The Croft.
Lisini was founded by Lisa’s parents, Harry and Kathleen Hood, forty years ago, and is a testament to the old adage hard work pays off. And certainly, Lisa is convinced that it is her parents’ work ethic that she and her siblings have inherited, that have helped position Lisini at the very heart of hospitality in the area.
When I caught up with Lisa at Angels, which has just undergone a very slick million pound refurbishment, she was quick to point out that she doesn’t really consider herself a hotelier, or indeed a publican. She tells me, “When people ask what I do I often hesitate. I think I am most comfortable saying that I work in hospitality.”
But that was not always the case. Lisa originally started her working life as a PE teacher, and in fact, played Hockey for Scotland.
Her sporting prowess comes, of course, from her father’s side of the family. Harry Hood, as you all probably know, was a Celtic legend (still is). He played 189 times for Celtic and scored 74 goals including the 1971 Scottish Cup final winner. Says Lisa, “Dad’s brother played for Everton, one boxed for Scotland and his two sisters were professional ice skaters. They were an exceptionally talented family and I was lucky to inherit the sporty side. I always wanted to do P.E. so I concentrated on sport which I really enjoyed. But unfortunately three years into teaching my knees gave way, and I wasn’t sure what direction to take. So I took a year off and went backpacking and then my mum suggested I come into the family business. She had been ill, and although she had recovered she wanted to take more of a back seat.”
Mind you it wasn’t the first time Lisa had worked for the family company. She tells me, “My mum and dad worked incredibly hard when we were young, and they instilled this work ethic into us by insisting that we earned our pocket money by working in their pubs. So from an early age I was cleaning, then I progressed to doing the dishes and chambermaid work. My parent’s motto was ‘If you can’t be seen to do it don’t expect anyone else to do it.’ Therefore you would find me behind the bar in the morning cleaning, despite having been working the previous night. It was a very good grounding.”
Lisa joined the company as manager of Angels in Uddingston more than 20 years ago. She says, “When I started working in Angels we only did a little bit of food at lunchtime and we had handwritten menus, which had four dishes, and the cash was collected in a blue tin box. We stopped serving food at 2.30pm in the bar and our bedrooms were never used.”
She continues, “I didn’t have a hospitality degree, but instead I decided to do a Masters of Business Administration at Strathclyde University while I was working. I studied at night and on the weekends. It was great. My parents didn’t realise what I was doing. I’m sure they thought it was a sports qualification. I funded the MBA myself and it was worth it. It is a great degree for people who are small business owners – who need to know a little about finance, HR, marketing, strategy and more. It also gave me a good overall understanding of how every component in your business is a cog in the wheel. I also realised that although the bottom line is important, it is not all about profits when you are a family company. For us family ethics are important – we want to have a business that operates in a fair and honest way and we want our customers to feel appreciated. That is more important to us than profit.”
However, when Lisa tried to introduce new marketing initiatives after taking over at Angels, she did find a bit of opposition from her parents. She explains, “I suggested that we started serving food at night. My dad wasn’t keen. He didn’t think people would come in for evening meals. He said people don’t eat out at night they come out for a good pub lunch but they won’t come back out at night. But I decided to do it anyway, and I tried it in the Angels lounge. At first, it was really quiet and I thought, ‘oh no’ dad was right! But then I came up with a new marketing ploy. I said to dad, “Why don’t we do ‘Two meals for the price of one’. It really took off. This was 22 years ago, and I honestly think we were the first or one of the first to do this.”
Today, the business still has the same offer. Lisa says, “We are fully booked a week ahead. We run the promotion Monday to Thursday, and obviously, it only applies to a certain number of dishes. People worried that when we refurbished Angels we would come away from our roots, but why change something that works so well? It is brilliant.”
“ I said to dad, “Why don’t we do ‘Two meals for the price of one’. It really took off. This was 22 years ago, and I honestly think we were the first, or one of the first, to do this.”
Through the years Lisini has continued to invest in the premises and it developed from a business that was based around beverages and food to a complete hospitality business. Lisa comments, “Although we are only five businesses we do everything from golf, to weddings, to functions, to conferencing, to late nights and pre-club. We don’t like to pigeonhole the business.”
Lisini has a reputation for taking over businesses and totally rejuvenating them. Ten years ago they bought The Parkville in Blantyre and invested £750K refurbishing the business. At the time people were amazed that the group had invested so much in the business. But before long business was flourishing. Five years later they bought Dalziel Park in Motherwell.
Lisa was the main instigator when it came to buying the Motherwell business which was set in 250 acres. It has a 600-capacity and is split into the Cedar Suite, two conference rooms, the bar and brasserie and a restaurant called the Wide Mouth Frog plus 16 bedrooms and of course the golf course. She says, “For some reason, no one wanted Dalziel Park. We were the only ones to bid for it. But I honestly think only a handful of operators could have transformed it. Dalziel needed to be a venue that appealed to the local community. But it wasn’t an easy transition. It had to be totally renovated, and of course, it cost much more than we thought it would. But it was worth it. I get a lot of pleasure out of the fact that local people stop me in the street and say thanks for putting Dalziel back on the map. They love the fact that they have a place in Motherwell that they like to go to. That is very motivating. We have further plans for the venue – within the next two years, we plan to add 16 new bedrooms and a spa facility. I would like to make it into a nice country club.”
Lisa believes that the staff have contributed greatly to the companies success. Lisini used to have 10-year service awards, but now there are so many people who have nearly 20 years service with the company they are having to amend that. She comments, “We are really lucky with our staff. But we do invest in a lot of time ensuring that we get the right people – we call it Lisini Behaviours – honesty, friendliness, and attitude are all important when it comes to recruitment. We call our employee the Lisini family and we need to make sure people fit in. Grant, who is our Operations Director, and his assistant Linda, get to meet every member of staff before they come on board. We do make mistakes, and sometimes staff make mistakes, but generally, it works out.”
The company has staff apprenticeships, as well as staff awards, and they also have an in-house newsletter. Everyone is also encouraged to get involved with company initiatives – such as the Lisini’s move to embracing green issues, and fundraising for the Beatson. Lisa says, “We have raised around £65K for the Beatson and that fundraising has been driven by our staff. We raise money through our fireworks night, Christmas fayre and Sportsman dinners as well as many other events throughout the year.
Lisa is looking forward to another year of progress and she tells me that they are always improving what they have to offer. In fact, the Parkville is set for another refurbishment shortly. Certainly, the company accounts look good. The company turned over £8.2m last year, up more than £600,000 from the previous year, with operating profit reaching £776,917. Says Lisa, “Last year was another year of significant progress against our strategy.Our performance was ahead of the board’s and market expectations.”
She tells me that the business split is 42% conference wedding, 8% on accommodation and food and drink accounts for the rest. As for the golf course – she laughs wryly, “There is no money in golf!”
This year she also has an eye out for another venue. She concludes, “We don’t want to get much bigger, but I do think we are now ready to add to our portfolio.”