Llangadog licensee Kevin Skone talks to Lesley Foottit about attracting destination trade, traditional Welsh food, marketing and business advice.
How we got here
We had been looking for a freehold and came across the Red Lion in Llangadog in 2003.
It is a beautiful old building, built in the 1700s and set in the Towy Valley on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. It had been closed for a year and the loss of the outlet was damaging to the local community.
The pub also has five guest bedrooms, which has been a great benefit for the type of travelling trade that we attract.
The long working hours needed for the pub industry have never bothered my wife, Cindy, and me because we really enjoy what we do.
When I was growing up in my dad's pub in the early '70s, he used to pay me 20p an hour to bottle up or run meals and it was always a lot of fun.
I went on to work at Beefeater venues in London, which really merged the pub sector with the casual dining market. So I was there at the time the industry began to change and it gave me great experience for running my own pubs.
As we are in rural Wales, our business relies solely on our hard work and ability to keep people coming.
We have built up a loyal customer base, not only within the local population, but the wider reaches of Wales too. We have regular visitors from as far as Cardiff and Swansea who must pass as many as 20 coaching inns on the way, but choose to come to us.
I really think a big part of the reason is Cindy. The licensees play such an important part in people's pub experiences and I would say my wife is the unique selling point of our pub — she's a star. She is always vibrant, friendly and very service-focused.
Food and drink
We are in a Welsh-speaking area of Wales and so I think people appreciate our traditional Welsh food. Everything is sourced locally, from meat to beer. The most popular drink we do is an Evan Evans' real ale, Cwrw, although our wines also sell very well.
Foodwise, our Welsh lamb and Welsh black beef are our best-selling dishes. Prices depend on the market, but the lamb would be £13 to £16, rump beef would be around £9 and a fillet cut £18 to £19.
In busy seasons we do about 600 covers a week, and in quieter periods around 250. We are 2,000 meals away from 100,000 since opening in late 2003.
You have to be sure of what you are as a pub and what your offer is before you start advertising. We sell our offer as a warm, cosy, traditional pub set in the countryside, with a fireplace, wooden floors and home-cooked food. That is what we are, but it is also what attracts the sort of people who live in and come to visit the area.
We never advertise in the local paper. Money spent that way is wasted because your ad will get lost between two irrelevant topics. Instead, what we do is email the papers our news and when they have a "slow news day", they stick our piece in and we get some free publicity.
There are lots of holiday homes and lodgings around here as it's a great rural area so we send the businesses our new menus and they'll print them off and put them in the guest rooms.
Our website works very well for us too. People can register on our site or we'll take their email addresses and add them to our mailing list. Then we can send out all our news and offers by email. We have between 800 and 900 people registered at the moment and since its launch, trade has increased 35% year-on-year.
Trade competitions are great for free publicity as well. We have won the best freehouse in Wales award two years in a row and we're in the Good Pub Guide.
Holding events at the pub also makes us more of a talking point and gets people in. We hold around five speciality evenings a year, as well as hosting a choir competition, showing sport on the big screen and a winter quiz. If I open a packet of crisps, I'll have a party.
I think one of the worst things a pub can do is get carried away with promotions. Once you go along price pointing, you are in dangerous territory. We never change our core offer.
By that, I mean the prices of starters and mains will not change and so we maintain our spend per head. However, sometimes we do offshoot offers, for example, a roast of the day for £6.
It is really important to stand out from the competition. There are five pubs in our village, although one is closed at the moment. Two have gone for the local drinking market while the other one, just two doors up the road from us, presents the same sort of offer, so that keeps us on our toes.
We still have plenty of plans to expand our business and have just bought the lease of a 14-bedroom hotel. We also have planning permission to convert the stables by the pub into 10 rooms, although we are holding off on that for six to 12 months to see if sales match up to last year. I think, overall, the conversion will cost around £300,000.
I really think that 2010 will be a year of consolidation, and hopefully we'll end up with a really decent industry.
Facts 'n' stats
Address: Church St, Llangadog, Dyfed
Turnover 2003: £185,000
Turnover 2009: £332,000 (net)
Wet:dry split: 37:63
Food GP: 67%
Wet GP: 62%
Dining covers: 40
Meals per week up time: 600
Meals per week down time: 250
Staff: three full time, four part time
Staff wages as % of turnover: 25.8%
•Average cost of a three-course meal with wine: £13
•Average cost of a pint: £2.60
•Average cost of a glass of wine: £2.70
•Average cost of a spirit and mixer: £2.30
•Make people want to come and see you
•Remember each customer demands something different
•Really enjoy what you do
•Be famous for something
•Make sure you are not operating on false economy
•Don't be afraid to change
•Never do food or drinks promotions
•Don't let the pub trade become a burden or a chore
•Never mess with your core offer
•Be the competition, don't worry about it
•Never be complacent
•Now you've ticked all the boxes — what else can you do?