HOSPITALITY remains an exciting industry despite the challenges presented by Covid and current issues around the recruitment and retention of staff, according to the co-founder and managing director of one of Scotland’s most successful bar and restaurant groups.

Kenny Blair, who runs the Ayrshire-based Buzzworks Holdings group with his brother Colin and sister Alison, told The Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey that much of the success of the company could be attributed to its culture and strategy of “putting people first”.

Recalling attending a scale-up presentation during which a speaker said a business has to “go to grow”, Mr Blair said: “That, for us, was to move out of Ayrshire to the east of Scotland and we knew we had to take our culture with us, we had to take our people with us, and now we have proved that we can do it 75-80 miles from our base there is no reason why we can’t do it 150 miles from our base.”

Buzzworks, which operates 14 venues including Scotts in Largs, Troon and South Queensferry, the Lido in Prestwick and The Duke in Kilmarnock and employs over 550 staff, started life in 1978 with a traditional pub in Kilwinning. The business, said Mr Blair, has evolved to become a “restaurant business that operates bars”.

“We have had success and failure but I think that failure stands you in good stead for the future,” he said in response to a question from Sir Tom Hunter about how the business copes during challenging times. Mr Blair recalled the banking crisis of 2007/08 when “hospitality went out of favour with the banks”, adding: “We were suddenly the bad guys but we knuckled down, cut costs and put our backs to the wall.”

Discussing the ups and downs of being part of a family business, he said: “Our experience has been overwhelmingly good. We have really come together as family in some of the hardest times. Business is a rollercoaster for many families but you have to embrace differences of opinion and harness that and be able to move on from that.

“It is good to be held to account honestly and properly by your siblings.”

Noting that he did not believe that the pandemic will have a huge medium to long-term impact on the hospitality sector, he said: “I think it may shrink a little but I think there will be better pay and conditions and more opportunities for careers, and we are going to have to come up with new ways to be efficient.”

Buzzworks, Mr Blair continued, was exploring new ways to recruit staff and has recently run a major campaign on social media platform TikTok to attract young people. He said that not everybody who works for the company wants a career in hospitality, citing instances of people who had enjoyed their time at Buzzworks while studying to be lawyers, doctors and accountants.

“We only have some people for a certain period of time and we have to accept that,” he said, “but we make it attractive by being a nice place to work, listening to them, paying them well and giving them good training.”

Equally, however, one of the core values of Buzzworks is “grow forward together” which enables opportunities for people to forge a long and fulfilling career with the business as it expands.