Two friends who bought their local bar 13 years ago never dreamt they'd end up owning three more as well as four restaurants and nightclub Boujis. What's the secret behind Ignite Group?
Paul Deeming We met through a mutual friend almost 25 years ago. We were both young single Londoners and we'd go out to local bars together.
Matthew Hermer I was a banker for eight years and I enjoyed it, but I just woke up one morning thinking I was doing the same thing every single day. I'd get up at the same time, get on the same Tube and read the same newspaper. I thought 'this is not what I'm cut out to do and I'm not really that organised'. I would never have wanted any other career to start off with though – I gained an understanding of business and how to run it.
Paul Deeming I was at Arthur Andersen for four years in a number of interim positions. I was in corporate recovery, so I was put into different businesses as administrators in some shape or form. I saw five or six different businesses a year, ranging from manufacturers down to paper suppliers. They all had very different styles of management and it was a great training ground, selling businesses and trying to rationalise what was good and bad in them.
Matthew Hermer When we bought our first Eclipse bar in Walton Street [Chelsea] in December 1998 we didn't have ambitions
to grow as much as we have done – it was just a bit of fun.
Paul Deeming We were in our local bar one night and Matt said, "this bar is for sale" and I just suggested we buy it. The next day we spoke about it and we thought, "we know the bar well, we are very smart, we'll make it successful". However, it took a little bit of time to get that formula right – we weren't raking in the money from day one.
Matthew Hermer What is extraordinary in this business is that everyone thinks they can run a business in the food and beverage sector better than you can. At first, people kept telling us what we could do better, but we have a brilliant board now.
Paul Deeming When we first took over we were there five nights a week and I'd be there all day every weekend to get the back office sorted out. I was holding up the Arthur Andersen day job too, but when you are young it's a lot easier. We had to make it work – we'd both remortgaged our flats – but we're both confident people,
so we knew if we could make one bar successful then we could do two or three.
Matthew Hermer By 2004 we had four or five units and we branched out from bars to restaurants and nightclubs. It was a learning curve. We could have focused on being a specialist rather than a generalist, but where we are now 12 or 13 years on we are stronger than many other operators because we cross over three different sectors in the food and beverage market, including hotel models.
Paul Deeming During 2008 when the world was going pear-shaped we took a long hard look at the business and the cost base, and we cut back. We found that sales didn't nosedive, so coming out of that period we were in very good shape, which we have remained since then. The last set of accounts were just shy of £15m turnover.
Matthew Hermer Our partnership is like a good marriage. Of course there are challenges, you have different views and different grievances and we have had our disagreements, but you just deal with them and move on. There are clear delineations of job areas. As CEO, I'll handle the strategy, the partnerships, the sales and marketing and acquisitions while finance and operational matters fall into Paul's bag – he's COO and CFO.
Paul Deeming There's no point in having the same ideas the whole time. We trust each other 100 per cent.?Whatever the other does will be done for the good of the company.
Matthew Hermer We know what the customers want. If it's not good enough for us then it's not good enough for the customer. A couple of years ago we thought people were moving away from fussy Michelin-star restaurants and cared more about what they put in their mouths, so we came up with the Bumpkin concept [there are now three Bumpkin restaurants] of sustainable British food. It is simple and easy and unpretentious.
Paul Deeming We're not just chasing growth for the sake of it; we are much more strategic. We want growth that adds value to Ignite as a group and the money is kept in the group to grow the business. We're hoping to expand in the next few years – both Bumpkin and Eclipse can go further. We're looking at Boujis international, possibly opening in Hong Kong.
Matthew Hermer I value Paul's loyalty. Our partnership is personal as well as professional and that's really nice. We'll go out and have a good time, we can let our hair down together and talk about all sorts of things, not just business.