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Hot Seat: Adrian Blower

Wednesday 01-09-2010 - 00:00

In response to market research, the University of Birmingham Guild of Students has recently unveiled a new venue, Joe’s Bar, as part of a wider £4 million development project. 

The guild’s Director of Business Adrian Blower talks to Spotlight about the venture and the challenges facing students’ unions redeveloping in today’s economic climate. 

How long have you worked at Birmingham Guild, and what made you want to work for a students’ union?

I have been at the guild since August 2008, prior to which I worked at Coventry Students’ Union. I was attracted to students’ unions because of the challenges presented in ensuring commercial operations were relevant, viable, and able to generate surpluses that could be used to fund/support other activities. 

That challenge still exists and continues to be a key motivator for me.

What was your role in the development of Joe’s Bar? 

My role involved taking ideas and interpreting research information to produce a design brief which delivered a project that not only produced a fit for purpose operation, but one which also created a wow factor! 

As staff lead for this element of the overall development project, my role also involved close liaison with the sabbatical officer team, staff, designers, building contractors and the university to take the project from the drawing board and turn it into a functioning development. 

What was the planning process behind the new development?

The planning process for the development project in its entirety began more than five years ago. The guild’s building is one of the oldest in the country; however, it had not seen significant infrastructure development for many years. For the bar specifically the planning process revolved around the need to provide a food provision for our members, and create a venue which was able to make a transition from a daytime to evening venue.

What market research and analysis did you carry out?

Catering provision, or lack of, was an area which had been highlighted by members in a number of feedback and research initiatives. The building development project wanted to address this via a new in-house food provision for students. To support these plans, in-depth catering research was completed on campus to support the making of informed decisions about student need and market size.

How does Joe’s Bar reflect ‘today’s student’?

Our research tells us that today’s student market is not only price sensitive, but also seeking a fast, convenient service. Joe’s Bar aims to reflect this in its service delivery, and food and entertainments provision.

How will you market the venue to students in the new academic year?

We want Joe’s Bar to be a destination of choice for students at the university. Students have told us what they want in our research and we have responded directly to this in the delivery of the operation - our marketing activity will reflect this.

Have you set any targets for Joe’s? How will you measure its success?

Financial and performance targets have been set for Joe’s - since its launch in March these targets have thus far been exceeded. The success of the new bar will be measured via sales and revenue generated, but also by student feedback on all aspects of the service delivery provided by the bar and the guild.

What advice would you give to a union planning a new bar development?

Consult widely and be thorough in your research of what students want and what is already available. Be challenging in the design brief and work closely with the design team to get the desired results. Be focused on the objectives and do not accept second best. If you achieve a ‘wow’ on the drawing board you have a chance of delivering that physically. It doesn’t happen by accident.

What do you think are the main challenges facing students’ union licensed trade venues in 2010 and beyond?

Students’ union commercial operations have had to face some significant and real challenges over the past few years. Some operations have failed, some exist but hang by a thread, others are evolving to deliver a more sophisticated and dynamic commercial service provision. The economic climate coupled with competition for the student pound and changes in student lifestyle and behaviours will continue to pose challenges which must be adapted to.

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