Chris Maclean: It's about making the cake bigger

By Chris Maclean

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pub, Public house, Dave

There is an awful lot of rubbish talked about competition between pubs. I mention it mainly because the pub nearest mine is about to change hands...

There is an awful lot of rubbish talked about competition between pubs.

I mention it mainly because the pub nearest mine is about to change hands this week. Its very sad really. The current landlord's a nice guy who, perhaps justifiably, feels let down by events around him. I think he feels he's been treated roughly. I don't think it is how he wished to finish there. I wish him well.

The new landlord will be a licensee from another pub in town. He, too, is a nice guy. His current pub is, by any measurement, very small and the opportunity created with his new pub will allow him to expand. He, too, I wish well.

But competition might now be an issue.

When I took the Railway Hotel on four years ago it had a bad reputation. Televisions, drugs, anti-social behaviour. Things I set out to get rid of. I took an aggressive stance and made sweeping changes.

My neighbour was understandably concerned that the problems associated with the Railway Hotel would relocate to his pub. Thankfully they didn't. He was able to gather the better elements and discourage the bad ones. I had managed to develop this pub in a positive manner with customers I wished to attract and he managed to grow his trade on the better elements of the trade I chose to ignore. We both succeeded because we had clearly definable differences between us.

This is where I struggle about the idea of competition in pubs. The paradox about pubs competing with each other is that there is an assumption that, if a pub choses to reject, exclude or discourage one set of customers it will somehow simply migrate and relocate in another pub. This point was made vividly in my last pub, one of three in the village, when one of the other pubs was forced to close for a year. Did the customer base relocate in the other two pubs? No. Not a bit of it. Those customers, denied their local, simply vapourised.

My anxiety about my new neighbour is that he operates broadly in the territory I inhabit.

The outgoing licensee has sport on television, music and a general buzz of vibrancy. Here we have no music, televisions or entertainment. Many people would regard this place, the Railway Hotel, as boring. A recent advert I placed in the local CamRA magazine noted that "some people might be disappointed" if they visited here. It is a distinction I am completely comfortable with.

The advent of a new licensee might be different. I cannot assume too much.

It would appear that the new licensee of my neighbouring pub would wish to remove the televisons and sport, and develop a solid traditional pub clientele. Much like I have done.

The new licensee, Dave, has a good reputation for food, beer and hospitality. Much like I have done.

Dave would probably wish to develop a calmer, less boisterous clientele. Much like I have done.

Has the distinction between one pub and another, the USP (unique selling point), becomes blurred? Is Dave's new operation in the pub opposite going to pull my customers away? Is Dave going to steal my business?

I doubt it.

Throughout these periods of self-doubt and concern are the wise words drummed into me over twenty years ago by my original licensee/teacher ~ Chris Smith of the Gate Inn, Marshside. "Keep good beer, keep the place clean and be there" he told me. He is right. It's simple, solid advice.

I believe the new licensee will do alright in his new business over the road. It will be different from what has gone before. It probably has to be. But I think he will be OK. And I don't think it will be at my expense. Rather, I think it will be a new business emerging which can run alongside what we do here. I believe, if Dave is successful, that this will generate more business generally. For all of us.

This isn't a question of how big a slice of the cake you get. It's about making the cake bigger.

I wish him luck.

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