Technology is offering licensees more and more opportunities - and tenants need not feel left out, thanks to Nucleus.
Tenants must often feel a little left out of the technological revolution that is sweeping the pub industry.
Often working on tight margins, the prospect of making the kind of investments, in electronic point of sale equipment (EPoS) and so on, that can put them on a level playing field with the big managed chains is fantasy-land.
That could all be changing, however. Commer Group, a Yorkshire-based pubco with just 75 tenancies has made a breakthrough that aims to give independent licensees more information about the operation of their business than they have ever had before.
Called Nucleus and developed with Kunick, the gaming machines people, the system is not only being introduced into the Commer estate but is also being marketed to other pub groups and individual licensees.
It has grown out of two other information systems which Commer was among the first to exploit - Kunick's machine control technology MIDAS and the Brulines beer dispense monitoring system.
Two years ago Commer created its own software for Brulines to enable it not only to police draught beer sales in tenanted pubs but to produce specialised analyses and reports that can help licensees understand and grow their business.
A similar principle is applied to the software behind Nucleus which has the potential to track the use of utilities like gas and electricity as well as beer through the taps and coins in machines.
"MIDAS has proved very successful for Commer, but it's only about monitoring machines," said Clive Consterdine, who heads the Nucleus project at Commer's Tadcaster headquarters. "The group has also benefited from dispense monitoring over the last two years and it was logical to put the two together.
"And because it is a modular system we can bolt on the monitoring of anything in a pub that takes money or is a cost centre and make it part of a combined report.
"The information is available to the licensee and others who can make use of it - the pub company, machine controllers and other suppliers. It is like getting EPoS data for the cost of a couple of cases of bottled beer per pub, and there are lots of opportunities to get the money back by improving the performance of the business."
During a recent promotion in Commer Inns pubs, real-time information on the impact of sales of the featured brands was sent to the brewers involved - the kind of feedback they can rarely hope to get from a tenanted estate.
Giving the tenant the opportunity to have that kind of an insight has, according to Commer, overcome much of the suspicion that greeted the introduction of Brulines. Licensees have instant access to how much beer has flowed through each font and how much cash has gone into each machine at any time of day. Reports can be produced for any period of time, helping with stocktaking.
In addition, Nucleus automatically highlights the peaks and troughs of what is being measured to give publicans an idea of their most profitable times of the days and the week.
Identifying the hotspots can help them judge how many staff they will need, for instance, or it may influence a decision on opening and closing times.
"Nobody has rolled all these systems into one before," continued Consterdine. "If you have EPoS, it can bolt onto that, too, and create a complete network within the pub's operation."
Commer is also adding on-line ordering by linking the network to Internet access in the pub's back office.
The company is now marketing the system to other operators and expects Nucleus to be introduced into other estates within the next couple of months.
Nucleus Data - 01937 835808