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OPINION


PUBS NEED TO RISE TO THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE, ARGUES ANDY SLEE


Without question, the best pubs in Britain are independently run – whether they are freehouse or leased pubs. I am inspired every week visiting sites across the country by just how good they can be. Sadly, the opposite is also the case. Many of the pubs under most threat are in- dependently run as well. I could easily fill an entire edition of Pub & Bar with hand- wringing analysis on reasons for the decline of pubs, but I’d prefer to look forward with optimism and talk about how we must adapt if we are to thrive in the years ahead. Pubs are not alone in feeling the eco-


nomic pressure. Traditional corner shops are closing at a faster rate than pubs, has- tened by the emergence of supermarket convenience stores.


Independent convenience stores in-


creasingly realise that their best chance of survival is to join forces with others under banners like Spar or Costcutter. Market research company HIM! tells me that this convenience facia market showed 10% growth last year in the face of unprece- dented competition – so it works for them. While we have no plans to brand the outside of our pubs, this shapeed our thinking in the development of the Punch Buying Club. Pubs working together have a greater chance of survival. We are about to embark on our second year of Spring Fairs, smaller versions of our successful Punch Buying Club Roadshows, in 10 venues round the country. These will be supplemented by a programme of more than 30 local events across the UK. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012, the Olympic Torch Relay and the Olympics itself present, literally, a ‘once in a lifetime’ series of activities that we want all of our partners to profit from. Wher- ever possible, these forums will be partner- led, with the idea that pooling of thoughts and ideas will help stimulate the group to everyone’s advantage. So what else can we learn from outside the pub trade? Other retailers have developed online


ordering at a far greater pace than anyone in pubs. Their aim is to shorten the order- ing process to allow more time front of house to developing trade. Two years ago, we were hearing that


10 TWENTIETH FEBRUARY 2012


pubs weren’t ready for online ordering and that its development would be gla- cially slow. In 2012, www.punchbuying- club.com will turn over £100m, putting it into the top 25 of trading sites in the UK – a list headed by Amazon and Tesco. com. Over 2,000 partners have registered and talk most often about the time they save using it. Don’t think about it solely as a trading site like www.tesco.com. We offer partners the opportunity to comment directly on a range of stories and try to reply to every query posted. In case you were wondering, the comments aren’t censored! This has helped develop an emerging online community with partners sharing thoughts, ideas and tips across the estate. A recent story on Coke’s designated driver campaign solicited 80-odd ideas and ways to improve the promotion. Are we perfect? Absolutely not! This has been a huge learning experience, es- pecially in the area of online promotions. The good thing about having a dialogue is that people generally aren’t shy in letting you know when they are not happy. We would hope our online pubs would say that we do our best to listen and evolve plans based on feedback.


ATTRACTING NEW CUSTOMERS TO YOUR PUB


It is said that all that pubs need is more people in them and more spent when they get there. Why then do so many pubs re- main so poor at promoting beyond the four walls of the pub itself? Posters and chalkboards are perfect for promoting to current customers, but not new ones. I am forever leafleted by my local Bar-


gain Booze store about really dull stuff like cheap pop, corn flakes and crisps. I can’t recall ever being told about special food or drinks events in my local pubs and I know they do them all the time! But we can take a giant leap forward as


an industry if we seize the opportunity pre- sented by social media and the 16m people with smart phones in the UK. Licensee Jeffrey Bell, at The Gunmak-


ers Arms in Clerkenwell, runs a great pub but realises that this is no longer good enough to keep him ahead of the market.


“I can’t recall


ever being told about


special food or drinks


events in my local pubs and I know they do them all the time!”


Punch Buying Club director Andy Slee He has 2,500 Twitter followers who get


regular menu updates, beer and event de- velopments. The pub has seen a 30 to 40% increase in trade over the three years since Bell started utilising social media. What about technophobes? One licen- see pays a younger member of bar staff two to three hours a week to manage his Face- book page and Twitter account. In reality, he gets more hours than that because the youngster enjoys the responsibility. People over 40 are the fastest growing


group online, so it’s a relevant medium for everyone – a regular in ITunes’ top weekly podcasts is The Archers. Need I say more? Despite all of the challenges we face as an industry, I remain as enthusiastic as I did on my first day at the Cape Hill Brewery in 1987. The British pub might be unique to the world, but it must change to survive and thrive.


Andy Slee is director of Punch Buying Club and central operations at Punch Taverns. Andy.slee@punchtaverns.com


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