Since it opened the doors of its first venue in Manchester in 2015, Junkyard Golf Club has been luring in punters with the promise of a different kind of night out – one that combines cocktails and pints with clown-infested crazy-golf courses and neon-lit selfie booths.
Yes, Junkyard is a faithful embodiment of that often-misused term ‘experiential’. It’s a label that’s been slapped on everything from your standard steak dinner served with an extra bit of smoke to a cruise down the Thames on a boat full of bellydancers. But, if Junkyard’s success is any indication, the concept of the experiential night out is overworked because it works.
What was once a pop-up has become a 300-person company with five locations in as many cities, many of them in buildings on 10-year leases, and big plans for the future. In October, the London venue will move from a pop-up in Truman Brewery to a permanent site in Broadgate – and that's not all.
‘We’re looking to do three or four openings a year for the next three years, hitting most of the major cities in the UK,’ says Sam Jones, Junkyard’s commercial director.
In November, Junkyard’s founders, Lyndon Higginson, Mat Lakes, Chris Legh and Bart Murphy, brought Jones on to oversee the expansion. He previously worked as marketing director of Revolution Bars.
‘As we move from pop-up to permanent I’m looking at formalising some of the stuff we do,’ Jones tells Imbibe in an interview in Manchester. He’s just come from Liverpool, where, at the time of this interview, they were putting the finishing touches on Junkyard’s latest venue.
‘There’s an amazing pop-up mentality that’s helped Junkyard get to where it is and it’s grown incredibly fast, and now what we need to do is consolidate what we know and expand and make sure that we're putting our efforts in the right place.’
Disco cocktails to the fore
So what do the folks at Junkyard already know? For one thing, they’re quite sure they’ve nailed their cocktail offering.
‘We know our customers love our drinks. When we post on Instagram about our cocktails the engagement is through the roof. A few weeks ago thousands of people liked a photo of two of our cocktails,’ Jones says.
One look at the drinks in question and you’d be furiously tapping your screen, too: their outrageous lollipop garnishes and neon Solo cup serving vessels practically beg to be photographed.
‘They’re not designed to be put on Instagram though, they’re designed to be drunk. They just work really well.’ Sure.
Junkyard has decided to capitalise on the success of its cocktails by making its bars even more of a priority in forthcoming venues. Jones explains that for Liverpool they’ve adjusted the layout of the bars to showcase them further.
‘We have a bar on each course, and we've put the bars back-to-back on this one. We still have the same number of bars working, but you can see through the bar into both the courses, making the bar central to what we're doing.’
Growing the experience
Other aspects of Junkyard will take some adjustment in order to expand, says Jones.
You might go to the pub every day, but you aren't going to that with crazy golf, no matter how much you love it
‘The bit we need to work on as we grow is systems and reporting and structures.
‘One of the brilliant things about being a pop-up is the ability to deliver things quickly. We come from the mentality of “let's do that”, and by 5pm it's done. But as you grow, if you want to have an idea at 9am and implement it by 5pm in nine different venues, you have to make sure you have the licences and instructions in place to do that.’
Part of what has helped Junkyard remain agile as it’s grown is its in-house design department, which creates all the outrageous golf courses on offer. Having a team dedicated to course development, Jones says, is key to Junkyard’s success as an experiential business.
‘People aren't going to come and play crazy golf every other day. You might go to the pub every day, but you aren't going to that with crazy golf, no matter how much you love it,’ he comments. ‘The challenge is to keep people coming in by innovating what we're doing on the courses.’
But for all this emphasis on bringing customers in, Jones is quick to say that he’s wary of growing too quickly. Rather than fitting more people into each time slot, the business turns away customers on a Saturday night to keep things a bit less chaotic.
‘It's important for us to remember that even though we're crazy golf, hospitality is the most important part of the experiential hospitality equation. Every single person who comes in has to be treated as a guest.’