MAD Ltd (Mark Andrew Developments) has been at the heart of Manchester’s hospitality industry for 14 years and continues to evolve its concepts and expand. Operations director Abbie Blasdale talks tiki bars, tackling the suburbs and future growth plans for “Madchester” with Jo Bruce.

The company’s slogan is ‘Mad by name, mad by nature’ and this is a business that is not afraid to push boundaries with its eclectic range of 11 sites, including rum and fire party concept Hula, African inspired Tusk and an Ibizan beach influenced mega club/ bar.

Last summer MAD secured a “multi-million-pound” funding deal with Allied Irish Bank (GB) to support its expansion further across Manchester and has since opened three new venues – Lazy Lizard, its biggest site to date located in Manchester city centre which has a 1,000 capacity; a third Hula branded bar in Heaton Moor, near Stockport and newest site the Blue Pig in the Northern Quarter, which opened in April.

It is the diversity and continual innovation within its estate, which offers seven different concepts taking in bar/restaurants, bars, a club and an events space, that operations director Abbie Blasdale believes is the key to MAD’s success.

She says: “We have not been afraid to try new things, new concepts. Some have been great - some not so great - but we always want to move with the times and are constantly reinventing and bettering our brands. We were one of the first tiki venues in Manchester and we are proud of that.

“Within our group we offer something for everyone and something for every occasion. Keeping concepts different means that our guests can sample three or four MAD venues in one night and they don’t even realise, as they all offer a very different guest experience.”

After opening three sites in six months from late 2017, the remainder of 2018 for the MAD team is about focusing on existing sites and cementing its infrastructure and people ready for further expansion in 2019.

Currently Greater Manchester; the city centre and its suburbs remains the core focus of the group, whose managing director Mark Andrew, who the company’s name is inspired by, is Manchester born and bred.

In 2004, Andrew and fellow director Jonathan Hawkins opened their first cocktail bar M20 in West Didsbury, which the group still operates today, but as Hula West Didsbury - one of its three tiki bar sites.

MAD opened their first site in the suburbs in 2016 in Heaton Moor, near Stockport, where Andrew also lives, and now operates three sites there – a Hula, Tusk and Fitzgerald events space.

Whilst Blasdale says the company sees future growth potential for all its concepts, 1950s inspired tiki bar concept Hula, ”a great business model” which focus on rum, cocktails and DJ music is where it sees growth opportunities in the near future, with venues that combine contemporary flair, live music, innovative cocktails and eclectic cuisine where MAD is at.

Blasdale says: “Expansion and growth is very much in our plan, however we have not set ourselves any definite targets or time frames. Sites become available when you least expect them, we like to roll with the punches – we have things in the pipleline and you never know when a great acquisition presents itself.”

Total sales across the group sit at 80% wet to 20% food, with the strategy of the group moving forward to focus more on wet-led venues. MAD’s 1950s diner venue the Infamous Diner which opened in 2015 was sold last year. Food remains an important part of the business, however, and Blasdale says it is always a consideration when opening a site.

The company is also developing its MAD House HQ in the centre of the Northern Quarter, creating thee floors of new state of the art office spaces available to rent.

The Mad House also houses the group’s printing shop, MAD Printing, launched in 2016 which was borne out of frustration of the mark up on printing they were having to pay.

Blasdale says: “As an operator with seven different concepts, new menu runs, posters, flyers etc can be incredibly costly and we knew other bars and restaurants must feel the same. We started off with word of mouth, but now have our own shop, e-commerce website and a steady stream of walk-in customers.”

She adds: “Whilst we turn our hand to any element of print, our core business has come from fellow operators looking for quick turnarounds and reasonable prices for their marketing POS.”

Among the best ideas introduced in the past year is the introduction of Trail App. Blasdale says: “It is a great program which will give my ops team much better visibility of what is going on in the sites when they are not there and moves us one step closer to being a paperless digital business.”

MAD, which employs over 130 people has also introduced new schemes and perks for employees, including the MAD dining club where salaried staff meet monthly at different restaurants to enjoy a meal together.

MAD is also now offering employees the chance to gain a degree qualification in business management alongside their position, with two employees enrolling in September. The company is also forging ahead with an Apprentice Academy.

The MAD team is currently gearing up for its strongest quarter of the year, including Christmas. Blasdale says: “We are doing some new exciting things this year as one offs. Nowadays, people aren’t just looking for a sit-down meal for their teams, the focus is on an activity alongside the food and drink offering. “

She adds: “We’ve done everything from a “cocktails and conjuring” immersive magic night to transforming an entire venue into a full moon party, with surfboard simulators, street food carts and a lot of UV paint. Whatever the guest wants, we do our best to make their idea come alive.”

Despite the current challenging trading conditions, MAD’s strong results suggest that its customers are certainly still mad for their concepts.

Blasdale says: “We celebrated 15 years of being an independent hospitality operator in Manchester this year. With the current climate, we are incredibly proud of our position within Manchester’s bar and restaurant scene and look forward to many more years.”