It was a big move, moving from Northampton to Huddersfield Yorkshire, it had been stressful buying a property in just 6 weeks, but I had found one, a victorian back to back property that had been done up to a high standard. Not knowing the area I asked my new colleagues and they said it was ok, so I arrived with the removal van and my parents ready to move in. I was a little nervous as I would be moving to an area that I did not know, and not know anyone to take up my first management role in my twenties.
It was a three venue theatre, a 500 seat main theatre, 200 seat cellar theatre and small attic theatre, as well as meeting rooms and I was to be Front of House Manager looking after all commercial activity and the customers coming into the theatre with the exception of the bars and restaurants which were franchised out, a strange decision, as so much money is made from bars and restaurants, so why would you outsource that income stream. I was to find out the theatres culture was very arty and the commercial acumen was not there.
The amount of money being taken on sweets, refreshments, ice cream was low, surprising low. The prices being charged were ridiculously low and no ice cream which can be an important income source for theatres was not even being sold inside the auditorium. If you wanted an ice cream you had to come into the foyer which wasn’t very large and join a long queue blocking the foyer, who would do that? The amount of money being lost each day was amazing.
The ice cream being sold was a basic ice cream, not a luxury or something that might tempt you as an impulse buy and the profit margin on it was low, a change of brand of ice cream was needed, starting with moving to Ben & Jerry’s which was not as big as it is now, but had that excitement when people see it and make you want to try one of the flavours. Ice cream sales quadrupled almost overnight, within 2 months and continued to rise, as the ice cream was started to be sold inside the auditorium.
The next area I went to look at was sweets and confectionary, moving to a range of sweets that theatre goers would want to buy and a range of drinks including flavoured waters. Water had a massive profit margin and the market was moving towards more healthy drinks. This helped to increase sales dramatically.
My first Christmas after many battles with staff it was allowed that we would sell Christmas merchandise, flashing merchandise is a big seller at Christmas and in the first year we made over £1000 profit during the 3 week period, that figure would double the next year.
Increasing the profits across all these areas over the two and a half years I was there was when I first realised that if I could do this for someone else I could do this for myself and I decided that I would one day work for myself.
There were some very funny and passionate people who worked there, one of the volunteers, Maureen was passionate about theatre and could not do enough, including on Christmas Eve dressing up as a Christmas Fairy for the pantomime shift, she then helped me at the end of the shift clearing up as I locked up the building. As I turned out the lights I could hear a voice above me saying “Don’t lock me in the building for Christmas”, how could I lock a Christmas fairy in for the holidays?
Another time, another volunteer went missing, and when I found him, he was standing on a main road up the road from the theatre, stopping the traffic to allow a coach to get down our road to get to the theatre. The health and safety implications are not worth thinking about as well as me wondering am I going to have a call from the police asking what we are doing stopping traffic on a dual carriageway. How he wasn’t killed is a miracle.
Volunteers can be great they are so great but sometimes they forget you have other things to do apart from doing the work they wanted to do, as I had many tasks to get on with, and one time I had to hide under the box office counter to avoid a volunteer who was obviously bored and would come in every day and want me to spend half an hour or an hour with him, which I just couldn’t do every day.
Next chapter – The ghost and the lifts!
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