The leisure industry is in my blood. My father, Nigel Vaulkhard, was an independent operator of several bars and my first job was as a glass collector at Flynn’s bar on Newcastle’s Quayside when I was 15.
It is one of those industries in which you can start at the bottom and see how you like it. If you want to make it your career, that’s when it becomes a little trickier to climb the ladder as it’s very competitive and largely comes down to reputation and experience.
When I started out, it was mainly my father’s group of bars (Fluid Group) along with companies such as Lazi Leisure who were the big players – both were relatively large, locally owned businesses which gave Newcastle a sense of identity.
In 1995, I opened the Quilted Camel on the Quayside and in those days the drinking market was very different to what it is now. It was easier to attract and train staff. Closing at 11pm, staff would be home by midnight so could work part time in addition to a full-time day job.
During the recession, the leisure industry was one of the hardest hit with operators and banks reluctant to invest in an industry based on discretionary spend. However, confidence has returned over the past 12 to 18 months with a new-found appetite from the banks and consumers.
Venues are receiving more positive press and the transformation of Newcastle’s reputation as being more than a party city has exerted a strong pull on new visitors to the city.
We have seen a new confidence across the industry about spending more on creating attractive and innovative offerings in food, drinks and venues and people are getting excited about it again.
Even to work in the industry has become more sophisticated than it was years ago, with staff needing more skills as increasingly complicated cocktails are on offer, along with the training needed for electronic tills and systems.
Leisure leaders need to embrace technology and build an experience for their customers, such as pull-your-own beers or ordering and paying via a smartphone. It will give a unique selling point for customers while reducing costly overheads.
As the industry evolves further, it will become more about quality of food, drinks and service along with staff training, which may make it more expensive for customers, so I hope that doesn’t stifle development. As a business, it is harder to make money in this game than it was 20 years ago but I think the fact that there is a new generation of individual talent emerging is making the larger operators up their game.
1986 Worked as a glass collector in Flynn’s Bar, Newcastle
1995 Opened the Quilted Camel bar, Newcastle, and established Quilted Camel Ltd
2001 Opened The Mushroom, Newcastle, and established Fluid Design Solutions Ltd
2005 Opened Barluga, Newcastle
2007 Opened Perdu, Newcastle
2015 Established the Vaulkhard Group with his brother, Harry.
Opened Bealim House, Newcastle