Michelle Michael of the Grand Pier

This month The North Somerset Business Leader puts Grand Pier owner and prominent businesswoman, Michelle Michael – who will soon become Michelle Michael MBE – in the spotlight. See below for full biography.

What does your average day consist of – if there is an average day?

“Every day is different for me. Monday to Friday is mostly working from the office at the Pier dealing with correspondence, and contracts, issues with staff, the management or new projects.

Weekends tend to be more hands on with several tours of the building to ensure that everyone is doing what they should and there are no issues or bottlenecks that need sorting.”

As a successful business person what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?

“When starting out make sure you have a plan A and a plan B. You need to know what happens if plan A goes wrong.

The most important thing to remember is always understand your numbers – how much something costs to provide, what you are selling it for, what your overheads are and what your profit will be.

“As long as you can understand the numbers – the rest is always about exceeding the customer’s expectations. Excellent customer service always compensates for when things go wrong and makes your life easier when dealing with an unhappy customer.”

Do you think young businesses receive enough support?

“Sometimes it’s a question of not knowing that the support is there and how to get it rather than whether there is enough or not.

If you do not have any formal training and have not been in a ‘business environment’ you may not know where to look for any support.

Our local Business West team do a great job but perhaps their existence and awareness is probably not enough.”

Moving on to national news, do you feel the recession has been as bad as the media portrays?

“We do have some positive stories but there is a lot of media interest on the recession and its impact which probably suppresses trade and investment. Negative words and coverage always makes people more cautious to spend even if they have money to do that.”

What measures would you like to see taken to get the UK economy back on track?

“The Government will need to take the lead and give businesses incentives to employ and train our unemployed.

We need a VAT reduction to stimulate growth. Europe has a proven record that this stimulates growth when reduced in the tourism sector following their reduction to 5%.”

So in your experience, is finance getting through to small businesses?

“No I believe that banks are saying they are open for business but there are too many obstacles for any small businesses to be granted any funding.”

Considering you are heavily involved in the tourism sector, what part do you feel it has to play in the future of the North Somerset?

“The Somerset Tourism Association is organising six familiarisation visits in the next 3 months for key journalists and tour operators from new ‘emerging markets’ such as China and South America.

Statistics show that tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of trade in the UK. It is vital to Somerset and to North Somerset. Without it half the businesses would be gone as they rely either on tourists or the jobs created by them to survive.

Somerset is a wonderful county and has a multitude of offerings for the home grown and International Tourist – beautiful coastline, flora and fauna, history and heritage, extreme sports, animal sanctuaries and zoos, days out for the family, Glastonbury and so much more.”

Do you feel that enough is being done to promote North Somerset to potential tourists?

“We can always do more to promote the region. We are being told that 2012 is the year of the staycation.

Tourism provides £1billion to the region’s economy. It is a huge factor and driver in the local area.

We have already proved that when people come to the town for touristic activities, all other business also flourish and increase their trade – out of town store, supermarkets, the retail shopping area, food and beverage outlets, petrol stations and convenience stores.”

So, to somebody who has never visited the area how would you sell it to them?

“Three and a half miles of beautiful beach, a state of the art £52m Pier – free admission, open all year round and all undercover – traditional fish and chips and whippy ice cream to finish off a day at the seaside.

We have a variety of accommodation providers from the private guest houses, to the hotels of the sea front, to upmarket boutique B&Bs and finally the brand leaders such as Premier Inn and Travel Lodge.

There is something for everyone to do and we are very well placed geographically being 30 minutes from Bristol and Taunton by car or train and 45 to Bath.”

Do you support the resurrected plans for the Weston Barrage?

“Yes we do. This could provide us with water 24/7 in our bay and a direct link to more difficult areas across the water.”

Locally, is there anything you’d like to see done to improve conditions for businesses?

“We would like to see our local authority responsible for promoting the region and we will promote our businesses

There is not enough support and understanding that tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK and is responsible for employment of the vulnerable twenty something adult.”

Do you feel enough is being done to attract inward investment into North Somerset?

“No – there needs to be a spread of investment in the region and a PR machine that shouts about it. There will be no more confidence in the region if one player only invests.

We are also not providing any ‘investment breaks’ such as no requirement for pre planning meetings or reduced or fast tracked processes for planning, business rates holiday or rebates, grants for disadvantaged areas etc.

We also need ambassadors for the region that are well known and can tell a real story about what it’s like to work and employ people in the region.”

* Please note – all views expressed are those of the interviewee and do no reflect or represent the views of the Weston & North Somerset Ech0 – which is an independent online business news portal.

Michelle Michael is a director of AGMHoldings plc, owners of Weston-super-Mare’s  Grand Pier. The Pier re-opened in October 2010 after a £52 million rebuild, following a devastating fire in July 2008, just six months after it was acquired by the group.

Michelle was formerly a commercial lawyer and her brother, and the Chairman of the Group, Kerry Michael, was an insurance broker before they decided to join forces nearly fifteen years ago and go into business together.

With a small management team, they built two very successful businesses, one in insurance and the other an award-winning garden centre, both of which they had sold by the time they had acquired the Grand Pier.

The Grand Pier welcomed millions of visitors in its first twelve months of opening and hopes to make a major contribution to the economic regeneration of Weston-super-Mare, along with £31m public realm works that have been carried out by North Somerset Council.

Michelle Michael and Kerry Michael were both awarded the MBE in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the rebuilding of the Grand Pier.

To find out about the Grand Pier please visit: www.grandpier.co.uk