Tracy and Paul Topliss of The Ball House are taking a break after six years in Boston.
The couple won the Boston Business of the Year twice – first in 2010 with The Mill and again in 2013 with The Ball House.
They have also been highly-commended for their food in the Lincolnshire Taste of Excellent Awards and Lincolnshire Life Best Pub Food this year. They spoke with James Waller-Davies about their experiences of running successful business in Boston.
You’ve won the Boston Business of the Year Award twice - what’s been the secret to your success?
Most importantly, it’s reading the market. You need to be aware of opportunities for business and the competition. It’s creating something that is needed and giving value for money. It’s making sure people’s experience exceeds their expectations. The best form of advertising is word of mouth and you always need to have this in mind.
What other factors do you think are important in business?
You need good, reliable staff. We pay a lot of attention to training, both in the kitchen and front of house. We have very high standards and staff have to work how we want them to work. We’re friendly, but when we ask for something to be done, it has to be done. We’re very clear on that. Location is very important too. We have a lot of passing trade here in the summer with holiday makers going to Skegness. You also need a good accountant and a head for figures so you can keep your margins high and costs low, there is no point being a busy fool!
How has the recession hit the business?
We started at The Mill in 2008 and for the first couple of years takings were excellent. We did notice in 2011 that things started to change. The market changed and people became more careful with their money. So yes, the recession has certainly had an impact.
Is this why you sold The Mill and moved to The Ball House?
In part, yes. We’d noticed the market was changing. You have to know when to go and we wanted something fresh, so we moved to The Ball House. But we we’re very lucky. So many of our customers came with us to try The Ball House. It really helped to get the new business going.
What are the strengths of Boston for business?
For us, the food produce is excellent. Boston has some fantastic butchers and we can get great fish from Grimsby. And you can’t go wrong in this area for veg. There’s also not a lot of competition, so there’s always an opening for a good business.
What will your best memories be of business in Boston?
Customers! Definitely the customers. We’ve met so many fantastic people - we’re really going to miss them.
Why are you leaving business now?
We’ve just had our first child, Katy. We’ve worked at least 70 hours each week, 90 hours in the summer, for six years. We want to spend some time together as a family for a while.
Ninety hours a week? You must enjoy working together?
We’re a great team. We back each other up. Paul makes sure the food coming out of the kitchen is what customers expect. I make sure the food is served to customers with care and that they feel well looked after. Teamwork is the key.
What suggestions do you have to improve the business environment in Boston?
I think parking could be made cheaper, with perhaps the first hour being free. I also think people need to have a reason to go to Boston, so an improvement in the wider infrastructure would help. There also needs to be more to attract young people.
Will we see you in business in Boston again?
If we we’re going to set up another business anywhere we’d be crazy not to do it Boston. We have such a good reputation and a loyal customer base it would give our new business a good kick start!
What sort of business will it be?
We’ve always wanted to open an à la carte restaurant. Probably do less covers, but slightly more sophisticated food. We want to guarantee that Paul will cook your food and I will be there to welcome you and serve your dinner.
So can we watch this space?
Yes, you can watch this space.