With consumer confidence at a low, publicans are going to have towork extra hard in the traditional new year lull. Phil Mellows reports
While publicans across the country will be working hard to make sure they maximise the festive take, there is a certain amount of apprehension about what the new year will bring.
January and February are traditionally the quietest months, a good time for that refurb or a well-earned holiday.
This time around, however, many licensees will be going into 2002 with a thinner financial cushion than usual to protect them.
The foot-and-mouth crisis that stretched through much of the summer, followed by September 11, reduced take during the part of the year pubs rely on to see them through the lean winter.
With a question-mark continuing to hang over consumer confidence beyond Christmas, it is more important than ever that licensees do whatever they can to maintain trade at as high a level as possible.
Bass Brewers is urging its customers to take a hard look at their businesses and make a set of new year trading resolutions to shield them against the annual hangover.
Neale Lewis, the company's on-trade marketing controller, warns that pubs need to identify weak areas of their business to protect against cash flow problems and over-stocking of slow-selling lines.
Just as important, he is advising customers to plan a new year trade campaign now so that new initiatives are in hand well in advance.
"Everyone knows the trade faces a difficult couple of months once the festive season is over," he said. "But we feel it is essential that the year gets off to a solid start.
"Licensees can guard against the after-effects of the festivities by starting to plan a new year blueprint before the first Christmas cracker has even been pulled."
Publicans should survey their brand range and concentrate on proven best sellers and high margin products even if that means ditching some slow performers, he says.
Once a range of key brands has been identified, licensees can capitalise on them with extra fonts or larger bottles.
"Above all we want our customers to think positively and get the best out of what can be slow trading months," Neale continued.
"January and February can turn out to be better if licensees are constructive and work hard to beat their opposition."
Bass's tips for a happy new year include:
- review your brands. Focus on the ones which are popular and make them highly visible to customers when they walk through the door.
- less stock can mean extra sales. Customers are influenced by the range of drinks on offer and often buy with their eyes. Don't let slow sellers clutter your bar and hide popular lines. Reduced stock means more shelf and cellar space and better cash flow.
- review your range. Analyse the sales and volume performance of each brand you sell. Study what your customers drink and study what lines sell best in the locality.
"But big brands and high profile merchandising can only do so much," Neale added. "It is more important than ever that licensees look hard at the way they market their pubs and ask whether they are putting on the right retail package for their customers.
"The new year is an ideal time to do some customer profiling and for publicans to examine whether their package is the right one. It's important to look hard at the whole spectrum of customers who visit your pub.
"The business maxim of 'knowing your customers' has never rung more true!"
Licensees wishing to discuss their research findings with an expert can contact their local Bass Brewers representative on 0845 6000 888.
Creating a buzz
Creating a buzz around special days is a good way to keep your pub on people's minds, and fortunately there are a few good opportunities in January and February which you can promote or even build a theme around.
Elvis Presley's birthday
St David's Day
Pulling in the punters
If you're looking for ways to get bums on seats during the quiet post-Christmas weeks it might be worth checking out the Money Maker package on the Barbox website (www.barbox.com). This includes:
- event Calendar: ideas for promotions and theme nights
- quizmaster: a database of thousands of questions to enable you to create your own quiz in a matter of minutes
- cctfinder: choose from over 1,000 entertainers
- pubs247 What's on Guide: lets you publish details of your promotions to a potential 13 million online users.
Tips from the top
So how will Britain's top licensees be coping in the new year?
Richard and Siobhan Tubb, the British Institute of Innkeeping's Innkeepers of the Year, (pictured) are banking on a bumper Christmas to see them through at the Old Library in Taunton.
"We are expecting to serve between 1,500 and 2,000 Christmas dinners," said Richard. "Many of those people who come on office dos and other parties will have never been to the pub before. When they see what we are about they come back in the new year.
"That way, we have increased our January and February take each year at the Old Library without doing anything special."
Richard and Siobhan will, however, be rewarding their regulars, probably with a 10 per cent discount offer for "Library Card" holders, the 700 members of the pub's loyalty scheme.
In the past they have used "bounce-back" promotions in which people receive money-off vouchers on meals bought in December which they can only redeem in January, but Christmas is the best business builder at the Old Library.
Sue Gray, The Publican's Businesswoman of the Year, is also a believer in making the most of the festive season to attract new customers to her pub, the Fox & Goose near Stratford-upon-Avon, in the quieter months.
"Make sure you've got a brochure or leaflet about the pub to give them, and tell them about all the exciting stuff you've got happening in January," she said.
In early 2002, Sue will be experimenting with a new idea - post-Christmas parties for caterers like herself who have to work while ordinary people are enjoying themselves. The deal will include free wine and free taxis.
"The other important thing is to get lots of local publicity, do whatever you must to get in the paper and make sure you keep your name on everyone's lips into the new year," she added.
Licensees are often reluctant to go down the discount road to boost business, but it works well for Eddie and Jenny Stanton, owners of The Publican's Freehouse of the Year.
They will be keeping the Pickwick Inn near Padstow, Cornwall, busy in the new year with a combination of price promotions and an excitingly different menu which will include ostrich, guinea fowl and venison - all supplied locally in accordance with the pub's commitment to the West Country economy.
"Our margins will take a pounding and we shall suffer a drop in profit - but not in business," predicted Eddie.
"We expect the weekends to be especially busy."
The big advantage for the pub in this, he believes, is that it can justify keeping on the 14 full-time staff who might otherwise be laid off as trade slackens.
"Some of them have been with us 15 years or more and it is very important to keep them on. Their experience is invaluable and the customers like to see a famili