“When I came into the business, I used to say, ‘I’m CEO at Everyman’ and people would say, ‘You mean the small one in Hamstead?’”
Andrew Myers is reflecting on the last five years, ahead of an event at Leeds Beckett University.
In 2009, he joined boutique cinema chain Everyman, becoming chief executive a year later. At the time, the group was largely a London phenomenon, with five of its eight venues in the city. The remaining three were firmly ensconced in the South.
Five years later, the chain has grown to 11 locations, including a three-screen venue at Leeds Trinity.
Now, as he prepares to exit the company, people are more aware of what Everyman is.
“When people talk about Everyman, there’s a real sense of brand and understanding,” he says.
“On the other side of that, each of the sites has its own identity, has its own community and has its own affinity.”
Everyman considers itself to be “spearheading the revival of independent cinema in the UK”. Its venues offer freshly-made pizza, wine and cocktails, over-sized chairs big enough for two and films ranging from multimillion blockbusters to art house offerings.
Revenues have grown to £11.5m in 2013 and the business completed a successful initial public offering (IPO) at the end of last year.
While Myers is coy about the performance of its Leeds operation - “We don’t really talk much about financials in detail,” he says - the venue is “near the higher end” of expectations. The weekend of November 21 marked a record for the site since its March 2013 launch.
“I’ve always said, judge us 18 months out,” Myers says. “It’s not like a restaurant opening where you tend to see much higher turnout early.
“The exciting thing is seeing audience build. What you’re doing with cinema is changing experiences.”
As a University of Leeds graduate, the location of the first Northern Everyman outpost is very close to Myers’ heart. He is “a huge lover” of the city.
He says: “We were looking for a site outside of London that we felt would fit with the Everyman brand, that would push us outside our comfort zone but in an area we thought that the community would enjoy us being here.
“That’s fundamental to when we open sites. We don’t want to impose ourselves on a community, we want to be part of it.”
Everyman has taken part in Leeds International Film Festival since it opened and recently hosted a Hockney event that members of the artist’s family attended.
“For us, those are really important things to be doing,” Myers says.
“We were quite bold in our aspirations when we opened, about being a real part of the community.
“You can open a cinema and control everything from London, but we’ve built a whole infrastructure here.”
And Myers says the work is paying off.
He says: “People love discovering Everyman, they feel we treat them well, we treat them as individuals, we try to offer a different experience from other cinemas.”
Everyman is rapidly becoming an established national chain, with openings scheduled in Birmingham, Bristol and Canary Wharf and rumoured plans for Harrogate and Cirencester, but positions itself firmly within the independent sector.
What about competing with genuine independents, such as Leeds’ Hyde Park Picture House, that are iconic within their communities and many of whom have struggled with the boom of large cinema chains?
Myers says it’s not about working with or working against independents, but about developing an audience for Everyman’s format.
“For me, they complement each other really well,” he says. “Hyde Park Picture House is a completely unique experience, it’s one of the oldest cinemas in the country and it’s got an incredibly loyal customer base.
“It’s not a question of us playing films they’re showing or playing films the Vue are showing, we just want to play the films we want to show. We hope enough people will want to come watch it at our cinemas.”
Myers admits that setting a business apart from its competitors can be a challenge in an industry like cinema. “At times, it’s a very homogenous product,” he says.
Films such as the biopic of famed World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, are as at home on the screens of Vue, Showcase or Hyde Park Picture House as they are Everyman. Myers wants the experience to set the venue apart in people’s minds.
“We hope that when you go to watch it, you’ll turn around to the person and say, ‘I went to the Everyman and watched The Imitation Game’,” he says.
And that’s even when someone has hated the film. “They can still have a lovely evening,” he says.
“We don’t control whether you like or hate the film. What we can control is everything that goes on around that.”
Myers’ successor Crispin Lilly, a Cineworld executive with 22 years’ industry experience, takes charge on December 1.
“He’s a really good guy and he’s the right person to take the business forward over the next five years as the business expands,” he says.
So what now for Myers?
“I haven’t applied for a job since university,” he says. “When I’ve stepped away from something, there’s something come up that’s really appealed to me.
“It’s got to be fun and enjoyable and something I feel I can make a difference in. Hopefully that will happen this time.
“That’s the fun of it.”