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Solving the industry's woes, or: 'There's got to be a Plan B'

From The Publican

By Hamish Champ , 09-Jun-2008

Listening to executives gathered in Oxfordshire at The Publican Industry Leaders' Forum last week was a bit like being in Harold Ramis' wonderful film Groundhog Day.

As those familiar with the film will recall, Bill Murray's character wakes up every morning to be confronted with the same day, and until he learns how to react to circumstances the same things keep happening to him.

Much talk at the Publican get-together focused on the all-too-familiar issues that have impacted the entire sector: falling wet sales; the smoking ban; over-capacity in the sector, and the matter of recruiting high-quality licensees.

It wasn't a wholesale moan-fest; there was a lot of positive stuff too.

There was talk of eschewing a 'siege mentality'; of avoiding the knee-jerk temptation to blame everybody else for the ills of the industry; of deciding whether to co-operate with government, or adopt a more isolationist line.

Yet some believe the industry has yet to get a decent strategy in place that addresses the demands of the market and the needs of consumers.

Part of the problem, well-placed observers suggest, is that if whatever the industry's Plan A is fails then, well, it simply tries with Plan A again, only a bit harder. So no Plan B then, apparently.

Others fear that the people running the industry haven't the wherewithal to come up with an imaginative solution to what ails it.

Some critics believe the sector is too wedded to the traditional ways of doing things - a suitable tack when times are good, they say, but not much use in the choppy waters of economic downturn.

I suppose it depends on what means by traditional. HIgh standards of servie in a traditional setting do it for me, I have to say. There are those who argue precisely this; that holding on to a traditional approach is what sees one through the bad stuff.

Meanwhile, former Laurel Pub Company chairman Ian Payne highlighted at the get-together that other retailers were quite literally "nicking our lunch".

Fewer pubs were attracting customers who prefer the quality, value and convenience of the likes of sandwich outlet Subway, which one pub sector observer remarked to me recently "ticked all the right boxes".

While many in the pub trade compete well enough at times, it doesn't hurt to look for more boxes to tick…

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