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Open goal on home turf for Bar Sport Franchisee

Standing at a bar in Orlando Florida enjoying a cold drink and a Premiere League game 29-year-old Kareem Naaman spotted what he thought was a gap in the market in the UK. He couldn’t understand why there weren’t more sports bars there, despite it being a nation of qualified sporting addicts.

Arriving back home in Maidenhead, Kareem set himself the goal of opening a new bar – one that would have dozens of plasma screens and sporting memorabilia across the walls.

However in a slight twist of fate, Kareem discovered that he wasn’t the only one who’d had the idea. Another company, Bar Sport, founded by ex-professional boxer, Scott Murray, was already established in the UK and expanding through franchising. When Kareem found out more about Murray and Bar Sport, he decided that it made more sense to sign up and buy a franchise than try and set up on his own. Six months in, he talks about how he became a Bar Sport franchisee, and how it has changed his prospects. Matt Pigott interviews.

How did your interest in Bar Sport begin?

I’ve got a lot of family in Orlando, Florida, and so I spend quite a bit of time visiting them. When I’m there, I like to watch the Premier League football. I’ve spent many hours in sports bars in America, and it baffled me why we didn’t have more of the same types of bars back home. So, when I returned to the UK I did a bit of research and realised there was a gap in the market. I was all set to begin putting my own sport-themed bar together, when I came across Bar Sport, founded by ex-professional boxer Scott Murray around ten years ago. I was pleased to find out that Bar Sport was a franchise, which meant that there was an opportunity for me to get involved and set up my own business with people who knew what they were doing. So I signed up for a franchise discovery day, and went to Cannock in Staffordshire where Bar Sport’s head office and first bar are based. I met Scott, saw the Cannock bar, and was impressed. A year later, I’m six months into running my own Bar Sport outlet in Maidenhead, and it’s going well.

What is it you like most about the Bar Sport concept?

Mainly it’s the focus on the sport. There are a lot of so-called sports bars around, with maybe two or three screens and a couple of pieces of memorabilia on the walls, but we’ve got around 50 screens on the premises, and can show four or five different events in various sections of the bar. There doesn’t seem to be anybody else taking the sporting theme to such an extravagant level. It works, and people like it.
At Bar Sport, we’re all about creating a fun, lively environment. The food is also an important element of what we do, and we aim to give customers an excellent culinary experience at affordable prices.

What drew you to the franchise opportunity?

I knew running a sports bar was something I wanted to do, and was prepared to do it alone, but Bar Sport had such a great franchise package that it made more sense to invest in their concept because it was already proven and successful. As a franchisee, I get head office support, and help with branding. They also give me great supplier introductions, something that would have been difficult to do on my own, being new to the industry.When it comes to suppliers, you’re not strong-armed into using anyone in particular; you get a lot of choice, which isn’t the case with most brewery-owned pubs. And Bar Sport negotiates all of the supplier discounts on my behalf.
As a franchisee, having the Bar Sport brand behind you gives you more credibility when it comes to negotiating prices with new and potential suppliers. Franchisees genuinely benefit from head office’s buying power and negotiating skills. The company has helped me with everything from finding the right site to negotiating the lease on the property. I’ve also completed several courses, and now have my personal licence plus hospitality and training, and health and safety certificates.

Location, location

I wanted the right-sized site, in a town centre location, with a high footfall. I spent a long time looking at different places, and came across the one where I’m based now, in Maidenhead. Scott came down to look at it. He checked out the surrounding area and examined the competition, and was happy for me to make an offer.The great thing about Bar Sport is that, if they’re not happy with the site you’ve chosen for whatever reason, they’ll let you know straight away. They know that a bar lives and dies on the basis of its location, and it’s in their interests for you to do well, so they would never allow you take on a poor quality site.

How much local marketing do you do?

They’ll be a lot of generic things that will be rolled out from head office to all of the sites, so when it comes to Halloween and Christmas, all of the franchisees will get similar promotional material. Apart from that, when it comes to marketing and creating events, it’s down to us as individuals. We’ll run most of our ideas through head office, and as long as they’re happy that it fits with the Bar Sport concept, it’s usually ok.
Most of the promotions I’ve run so far have been sports orientated. For example, when Wimbledon Tennis was on, we ran a tennis party in the bar, and when the Premier League season started, we did a Premier League football party. In addition, we’ll do events for things like St. Patrick’s Day.

What do you think the main advantages of being a franchisee are, compared to going it alone?

Firstly, I’m new to the industry, which means that before I opened I had zero experience. Bar Sport has been going for 15 years now, and the model tried and tested. Because they’ve been there and done it, I don’t have make all of the painful mistakes that most start-ups will make. As a franchisee, you have a team of experienced people around you and other franchisees to fall back on for support. Because of that it’s much easier to avoid falling and having to pick yourself up.
Also, if I had started my business on my own there would have been a lot of trial and error, which can be costly. Bar Sport has saved me a lot of money, even down to negotiating the lease and the rent for the premises. They secured me six months rent-free in the first year, and got the rent down by half for me.
Bar sport also helped with suppliers for the fit out. The deals they secured on the furniture and the kitchen equipment were a lot better than if I’d gone to the same suppliers on my own.

What were the premises like that you moved into?

Before becoming Bar Sport, the venue I’m in was actually another bar, set over two floors. So it was ideal from that point of view. It was basically just a shell, but it had the bar and the sides and was in good condition. Plus it had a really good-sized kitchen with all of the services in place, which helped to save a lot of money on the final fit-out.

How did the fit-out go?

Bar Sport introduced me to a couple of shop fitting teams who came down to have a look at the site with me. I then decided which one to use. I put my own ideas together in terms of the layout, and then it was a case of me, Scott, the designers and the shop fitters discussing my ideas – everything from how many screens we would have, and where they would be positioned, to where the seating was going to go. I wanted to get it spot on, and I invested a lot of time thinking about exactly how I wanted it to look. I walked around the building, and dreamt up ideas about where the booths should go, and where the VIP lounge should go – that sort of thing.
We also ended up installing another bar upstairs, which has worked well. All in all, it took about three months from the day we got the keys, and the shop fitters starting work, to opening our doors to the public. Because we had to make a further application to knock a few walls down, the time frame was longer than initially planned. But overall, I was satisfied with how quickly we managed to get the building ready for opening.

Kick off

We launched on a Thursday night, which was by invite only. Everyone from Bar Sport was there, and the other franchisees who were already open or about to open came down to see what it was like.
We opened the day before the Euro kicked off, so it couldn’t have been better timing. From that point onwards, we were absolutely packed. For the England game, we had queues outside and had to stop letting people in. There were 430 people in the building. It was a great way to open.

How much was it to fund your new business, and how did you do it?

The way I did it was partly through my own savings, partly through loans from family members, and I also got some good leasing deals on the screens and the tills, and some of the furniture, which all helped with the initial costs. I also managed to secure some funding through the banks.
The franchise fee was £35,000, and I pay 5% of turnover to Bar Sport every month. With the fit-out and all of the other costs required to get up and running, I’d say the total investment ran to about £400,000.
I could have done it for less, but I wanted to do it properly, with the right amount of sporting memorabilia on the walls, and the right number of screens. I didn’t’ want any half measures. Now, when you walk through the doors of Bar Sport in Maidenhead, you can see it’s a classy venue. The quality is there.  And it’s paying off. Our average turnover is upwards of £20,000 per week, depending on what sporting events are on.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment, I’m taking each day as it comes. In two or three years, I might consider opening another Bar Sport venue, but I’m focused on getting this one right first. I’ve got about 25 or 30 people working for me, so I’m learning to manage big teams of people. Its’ enough to be getting on with for now.

How do you manage the finances of the business?

I was using my own accountant, but then Bar Sport introduced me to some new accountants and saved me a lot of money in the process. I send them my paper work at the end of each month. They sort out my payroll for me, along with national insurance contributions and tax. It’s great, because it leaves me free to focus on running the business, making sure everybody’s doing what they should be doing. And I can give my time and attention to taking care of the marketing side of the business.