In an attempt to win back customers, the industry has witnessed a boom in concept pubs. Lorna Harrison reports on how one brewer has learnt to diversify.
Diversification is a word which hit the big time among major pub companies and brewers about five years ago.
Operators began to realise that with increased home drinking and entertainment, brought on by cheap supermarket booze, cross-Channel imports and the recession, they had to do something pretty special to attract customers back to pubs.
So along came the boom in family dining, Irish pubs and value-for-money venues.
Since then companies have been striving to come up with new innovative ideas, not only to keep people in pubs but to make sure they target their venues rather than their competitors.
Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries (W&D) saw the potential in diversifying its traditional pub estate and over the past few years it has invested heavily in getting several quality themed concepts off the ground.
"We want to stay ahead in the industry and have targeted very specific markets, giving those customers exactly what they want and feel comfortable with," said Patrick Dardis, director of pub retailing.
The company operates around 530 managed pubs from Weston-Super-Mare, Gloucestershire, to Preston, Lancashire and 400 tenancies from Northampton to Manchester. Out of those around 100 are themed concepts.
W&D's new concept - so new it has yet to be named - is due to open in May in West Bromwich. The converted post office will be a young persons' venue with a café/bar feel.
All sites are sourced by W&D's own team of surveyors.
Jackie Cartwright, acquisition surveyor, said that the company has no plans to roll out its estate nationally although competitors can expect to see Milestone Restaurants and The Varsity cropping up in specific areas.
"We are targeting university towns looking for suitable venues for the Varsity," said Cartwright, who added that former banks make ideal venues.
Dardis said: "The Varsity has proved to be a great success. Unlike other student venues it does not offer loud music and cheap beer price-offs. Our new site in Coventry features a student union library."
W&D's retailing policy to stay, in the main, within existing trading areas is not mirrored on its brewing side.
The company is consciously rolling out its flagship beer Banks's (3.5 per cent ABV) and says it will be available nationally in 2001.
A million pints of the brand ale are currently sold in its existing Central TV trading area and W&D is investing heavily on promoting it, spending £2.1 million this year.
The company is targeting TV regions and HTV (Wales, Gloucestershire, Avon and Bristol) is the next to be hit with intense advertising. A salesforce of five has been taken on to deal with enquiries.
An advertising campaign for W&D's imported Czech lager Zámek also kicked off in December. Zámek (ABV 4.5 per cent) is imported exclusively by the brewer and is fast gaining a good reputation among premium lager drinkers nationally.
Sales for the last financial year, ending in September, saw a rise of 12.3 per cent, largely due to increased marketing support.