The Pier Company behind the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1904. It was originally built as a Victorian Pier for gentlefolk to promenade over water – this was a particular thing for the Victorians.
The Pier was quite an exclusive ticket and not something that everyone could afford. It housed a theatre and a bandstand and also had a jetty at the sea-end to dock steamers from Wales. This was quickly dismantled when it was realised that the estuary waters were too dangerous to disembark passengers!
It is currently run by Michelle Michael and her family, she says, “We are a family business. My brother and I have been in business together since 1997. Our holding company owns the Pier and now his three children who are in their 20’s will probably join us at some point once they have cut their teeth on other projects. We are a big family so over the years we have had many family members working for us and we also have one of our nephews on our current board of directors.”
The Grand Pier employs 75 full-time and 220 part-time workers and is a stand-alone attraction. The company operates all of its own outlets and has one take away outlet across the road from the Pier. All of the company’s activities apart from that outlet are on the one site.
“We believe that we have one of the biggest amusement arcades in the country and one of the most modern in terms of equipment,” adds Michelle. “It was wonderful purchasing the Pier in 2008 and we had a lot of plans for it from the start.”
Unfortunately, shortly after the family purchased the Pier, there was a catastrophic fire that meant they had to rethink their original plans. “Our fire in July 2008 after six months ownership was a difficult time,” says Michelle. “We signed a contract to rebuild in a recession whilst fighting insurers for a business interruption claim as well as the alarm monitoring company for not calling the fire brigade. They were a very difficult two years.” Following the fire, the family knew that they wanted to build a flexible space for events as well as an arcade, which is what they achieved. The pier now holds banquets for up to 1000 in that space, as well as concerts of 3000. “It has been wonderful to see that transformation of the Pier; the nod to its heritage as well as its modern take on entertainment,” says Michelle. “I think we have an offer for all age groups, whether that be on the attraction or in events. There is something to do for everyone and at every price point. You can entertain your children or grandchildren with £1 of 2ps on a pusher, right up to driving a Formula 1 simulator. You can organise your child’s birthday, celebrate a milestone, launch a product, attend a conference or join one of our many public events and concerts.”
“Our typical customers in high season is a family customer; usually parents with children, or grandparents and extended family members coming too,” she adds. “We also have couples in high season coming to the coast for a break and locals using the facilities. Our low-season customer is usually an empty-nester or an occasional tourist as well as school groups. Overlaid on top of this we have a lot of event business too. On the attraction it’s usually corporate events using the rides and educational talks with time out on the rides, followed by food.”
Unfortunately, now the pier is silent again – although it is offering support to NHS and key workers during the pandemic with nightly blue illuminations, which have been welcomed by the local community.
“This pandemic is the second biggest thing to affect our business and we are concerned about the events business that we have built up having to start from scratch as well as the attraction business with restrictions on crowd venues. We await information from Government eagerly,” says Michelle.
Michelle has ideas of what is needed to support businesses like the pier.
“We would like to see the furlough monies being converted into springboard monies. It will take a lot of time and effort to change people’s perception of coming to our attraction from a safety perspective and a confidence perspective. Events will also take a long time to re-establish and businesses don’t have the money to pay staff in the hope that they get customers,” she says.
“Businesses need to feel confident to dip their toe in the water and hang onto their staff but need help with paying them with no income. Whilst we understand that the Government wanted people to stay home; there was a lot they could do from home to maintain business momentum and this is something I think businesses are looking for so that they can hit the ground running in their new reality. There is no guarantee with any new measures that business can be profitable especially with the number of restrictions proposed – so that will be a work in progress.”
Michelle and family have been bacta members since acquiring the Pier in 2008.