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Client Story: Customs House

Discover the story of iconic Newcastle pub Customs House and why the owners don't make any financial decisions without consulting advisor Renae Korsman.

Serving up advice with a personal touch

When it comes to running one of Newcastle’s most iconic pubs, the secret to success is more than just being able to pull a good beer. For the owners of the heritage-listed Customs House Hotel, Kim and Mick Starkey, it’s all about following your gut instincts while listening to some solid financial advice.

The husband and wife team first began working together in 2000, when they started helping Kim’s parents run their hotels on New South Wales’ Central Coast, including the Stag & Hunter, the Australia ‘Aussie’ Hotel Cessnock and the Royal Federal Hotel Branxton.

Customs House: Partners in growth

Watch this video to hear how Kim and Mick Starkey came to own iconic Newcastle pub Customs House, and how advisor Renae Korsman was key to making their vision a reality by understanding both their business and personal goals. Watch now.

“I was two when my parents bought their first pub, so I’ve been raised in a hotel,” says Kim.

After Mick and Kim got married, joining the family business seemed like a logical move, allowing them the flexibility to spend more time with their children.

“Mick had quite a good career as a diesel mechanic on the go, but he stepped back and learned how to pour beer and change kegs at one of Mum and Dad’s pubs. So for 23 years, that’s what we’ve done,” explains Kim.

Branching out

Since it was built in 1877, Customs House has stood proudly alongside Newcastle Harbour. Originally used to process cargo, today the landmark building is a popular pub, restaurant and function venue, regularly hosting birthdays, weddings, baby showers and other celebrations

In 2018, Mick and Kim were invited to purchase the Customs House business, and it was exactly the opportunity they had been looking for.

“We ended up with a lease on Customs House through a relationship with the previous owners. There were some long conversations over many glasses of wine and beer, and then, all of a sudden, we were the custodians,” says Mick.

Throughout the decision-making process, they consulted with their long-term business advisor, Pitcher Partners Newcastle’s Renae Korsman, who did projections and forecasts, and helped them get approval from the bank by preparing the cash-flow reports to support their loan application.

“We actually don’t really make any financial decisions anymore without involving Renae,” says Kim. “She’s always our first port of call.”

Mick agrees. “Renae understands our business and knows where we’re at, and that makes us confident in what she does.”

Trusted advisor

Mick and Kim began working more directly with Renae around 10 years ago when they brought her on board as a tax advisor for their first business – an AirBnb property. Prior to that they had come to know Renae through Kim’s parents, who have been clients of Pitcher Partners for almost 50 years.

“Our relationship with Pitcher Partners started many, many years ago,” recalls Kim. “It has evolved from us stepping into the family business, and then branching out on our own. It’s a relationship that’s stood the test of time.”

Renee has since gone from trusted advisor to friend, helping Mick and Kim to expand their business portfolio to not only include Customs House, but also a restaurant at the front of the AirBnb and, more recently, a freighting business. Across all four businesses, Renae does everything from accounting and taxes to planning and budgeting, and even tax strategies.

“Day to day, we like to look at things like wages, comparing wages to sales percentages, and have a look to see if there’s anywhere else we can find efficiencies to help the business run better,” says Renae.

“So the way I help Mick and Kim, it’s all about the numbers, but it’s also about helping them understand the numbers, and just giving them the confidence that what they’re doing is working.”

A great team

To Mick and Kim, Renae is a vital member of their team, bringing skills and expertise that complement their own.

“We’ve got gut and we’ve got instinct, and we’ve got the drive to work, but we still need to have that reassurance that we are making the right decisions,“ says Kim.

“The freighting business is probably the most prime example of this, because that was not an industry that we had much experience in. It’s completely different to hospitality. But when we raised the idea with Renae, she said straight away, “This is a good opportunity”, so we went for it.”

As for Renae, understanding her clients’ goals on both a business and personal level is key to helping make their vision a reality.

“Anybody can look at numbers on a page, but to actually know what people want to achieve and where they want to be in their life just brings so much more meaning to it,” she says.

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