Craig Bancroft of The Northcote Group on why he uses Forbes


28 September, 2010

Craig Bancroft, Joint Managing Director of The Northcote Group met up with Helen Gorrell to discuss the success of his business and the reasons he has been a client of Forbes for over 20 years.

How did the Northcote Group begin and have you achieved what you first set out to?

I came here in 1983 to run Northcote. Nigel Haworth joined me in 1984 as Chef and I was the Manager. Nigel and I professionally were chef and waiter and we have huge respect for each other for our professions so out of that was born a great friendship with a great business partnership. Whereas I think if you do it the other way round and you are great mates and then decide to go into business together it usually ends in tears. We bought all the shares in 1989 with Forbes instrumental in all our deals.

Have you achieved what you set out to?

The goals we have for the group are to become, in terms of Northcote itself, a two-star restaurant and a member of Relais & Chateaux which is the most prestigious hotel consortium in the UK. We believe we deserve two stars now but we haven't finished the physicality of the house, so there are further improvements required particularly in the grounds and the restaurant to achieve our goals.

And Ribble Valley Inns?

Well Ribble Valley Inns is the first addition really to the group apart from Northcote at Rovers, which is an association we are very proud of and really enjoy. So that was our first expansion and then with Ribble Valley Inns we started with The Three Fishes five years ago. Colleagues look at Ribble Valley Inns now and say 'what a great concept and how easy its been' but the pub was derelict for ten years so it was the biggest risk we had ever taken. That was five years ago and then off the back of that obviously we found success and decided it was a good thing to continue to grow the group. We believe that Ribble Valley Inns as a project is endless, depending on our energy. But there will certainly be more Ribble Valley Inns.

Have you found that the economy recently has affected the fine dining experience?

Well funnily enough, no. Ribble Valley Inns has done well but there's definitely signs of people having two courses and not three and not having extra dessert or spends being a little bit down but there's nothing disastrous within the group. Northcote itself has seen no such downturn at all. Largely due to Nigel's profile being on television, Nigel winning Great British menu last year was the best marketing we could have ever dreamed of. I also believe that the stay-at-home Britain really worked for us. Lots of families scrapped the two week Majorca holiday and they did two nights here and there. We benefited hugely from that and we have had one of the best occupancies we have ever had in our history. It's been amazing. But in terms of the question, the economy has affected the pubs and the football club. We are very fortunate it hasn't affected Northcote and I think in actual fact if there hadn't been a depression we might have done even better at Northcote so it would have been amazing to see how well we could have done.

What are the main things that make you different from your competitors?

Our unique selling point I think is that we are owner-driven. The fact that Nigel and I are actually here and here a lot. Nigel's Head Chef, Lisa, has been with him for eight years and being a lady she has a unique selling point, she's also
on Great British Menu this year. That will give us another absolute plethora of activity on television, if she can progress in the competition she will be the only woman to have got to the final and if she actually gets to the banquet, well, the world is our oyster I think. Then front of house the team's been together a long time and I think again the economy's helped that because the ambition for movement and people leaving hasn't worked the same. This means that you have time to build the team and instil training and get your ethos into them whereas when it's a moving feast all the time, it is really difficult to maintain that standard.

Just to finish off then, obviously you have used Forbes for a number of years now, what is it that's made you stay with us for so long?

Well we have used Forbes since 1983. Forbes were my father's solicitors so when we came to join this company Peter Turner and Geoffrey Isherwood did our deal and then when Nigel and I decided to buy shares we used Forbes to take the first shareholding and then to do the second acquisition and further investments. The relationship is what's important for me. We have a great relationship with the people at Forbes, they really understand us. I think as a body of professionals you've got something for everybody. It's a One Stop Shop as a legal entity, whatever problem we've got you've got someone to come and advise us or fix it.

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