Stuart Bateman – Managing Director, fourth generation
I joined my family at the Brewery in 1987. All my years studying and training had led to this moment. I was so happy to be able to work alongside my sister Jaclyn and my mum and dad, Pat and George, and to help to keep our great family legacy alive.
I’d studied Business at St Pauls in Cheltenham and then completed a three-year Brewing and Business Foundation course at Mansfield Brewery. With that solid grounding, along with plenty of work experience at the Brewery under my belt, I felt prepared enough to take up the position of Assistant Managing Director.
As my dad explained, 1987 was an extremely important year for us. Although we had secured the Brewery’s independence, we had quite a bit of debt to shift after borrowing from the Midland Bank.
While Jaclyn set about whipping up wholesaler interest, I focused on recouping money by selling what pubs we could – those we felt weren’t going to cause too much upset among locals.
“Our Visitors Centre was officially declared open by the 617 Dambuster Squadron. We don’t know which has attracted more guests to the Brewery over the years – the Dambusters or the Visitor Centre.”
I also began reorganising the free-trade and tenanted trade divisions of the business. Our free-trade business (essentially the practice of selling our beer to other, independent pub owners) was a major part of our strategy for growth, partly because we didn’t need to invest lots of money into it.
Our free-trade arm was so successful that Carlsberg Tetley bought it from us for the same amount we’d had to borrow from the bank to retain our independence. That helped us square things up for a while. Thankfully, though, we returned to the free-trade six years later and increased that part of the business by 30% more than what was sold to Carlsberg (oh, and it’s not for sale!)
With all that in hand, we were able to focus on national sales and supermarkets. People were really getting a taste for Batemans beer at pubs and homes all over the UK (beyond, even), and we were continually stoking that interest with new beers and fresh ideas.
Thanks to our ongoing innovation and excellent trading relationships, these parts of the business now represent more than 80% of our beer production.
Also, to raise more money for investment, I renegotiated our major trading agreements with Whitbread, Ansell’s and Scottish Courage. Over the years we had committed to sell their beers in return for them giving us pubs. But these agreements were, by then, outdated and very one-sided.
“It was with great satisfaction that we abolished the antiquated ‘wet rent’ system along with much-maligned rent reviews.”
In 2002 I took over as Managing Director, ably supported by Jaclyn. It was during that year I designed the Visitors Centre and training facility, which are based in our beloved old windmill. We wanted to give people a real insight into our brewing heritage – not only through the beers but also through the lives of the fantastic Batemans characters behind them.
Alongside our Victorian brewhouse, with its gleaming copper and brass, we set up rooms (some with fully functioning bars, of course) in honour of family members and filled them brimful with artefacts dating back to 1899, plus a huge collection of beer bottles and vintage brewing posters (possibly one of the biggest in the UK).
The Centre was officially declared open by the 617 Dambuster Squadron. It was a momentous occasion. We don’t know which has attracted more guests to the Brewery over the years – the Dambusters or the Visitors Centre.
Doing things differently
In 2007 I began to rethink our tenanted pub division. It was with great satisfaction that we abolished the antiquated ‘wet rent’ system along with much-maligned rent reviews. In their place, we introduced free-trade pricing and a code of practice – a first for any UK brewer.
The traditional tenanted rent model often meant that publicans were penalised by breweries for doing well – with rent going up (and sometimes through the roof) as business got better. On top of that, they had to pay more for the beer than independent (free-trade) pub-owners.
This resulted in tenants trying to side-step their agreement obligations, while the breweries did their utmost to police and enforce these obligations. In our book, that’s no way to form a good business partnership. I detested it. So I put together a new team and planned to transform the publican-brewery relationship.
For this work, we were awarded the prestigious Publican Award two years in a row. Receiving that accolade was a very proud moment for me and the whole Brewery team. I’m extremely pleased to be now overseeing the development of a managed-pub division – serving Batemans beers and home-cooked food – to stand alongside our tenanted pubs.
It’s no secret that brewers of our size, in recent years, have pulled back from many national contracts and focused on brewing beers for their local markets. We have also done this, and we’re starting to sell more beer than ever in our home county of Lincolnshire, as well as in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Norfolk.
So all looks good for the future. I feel especially optimistic since my wife Rachael (a source of constant support) and I have three children. Harri, Edward and Eliza are all showing a keen interest in joining the family business at some stage in the future.
I’m sure they’ll follow my and Jaclyn’s lead, to ensure the company carries on brewing great beer and running great pubs – independently – for the foreseeable future.