Free thinking for pubs

By Tony Halstead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cask ale Beer Soft drink

Freehouse 500 meeting in Leicestershire
Freehouse 500 meeting in Leicestershire
Tony Halstead reports on the MA's latest Freehouse 500 meeting that featured insights on getting customer feedback and digital marketing ideas.

The MA's latest Freehouse 500 business club meeting at Leicestershire's Stapleford Park features insights on collecting customer feedback, saving money by going greener, digital marketing ideas and tweeting in more trade. Tony Halstead reports

Secrets of success

Providing the "wow" factor lies at the heart of customer service at the Bulls Head, Repton, Derbyshire, run by BII Licensees of The Year 2010 Richard and Loren Pope. The couple bought the freehold from Punch 12 months ago.

Attention to detail has paid off and latest figures for 22 weeks' trading in their fourth year saw business grow by 49% year-on-year. The pub's retail offer is harnessed around a feature wood fired pizza oven, a popular outside terrace seating 170 people, good cask ale, great food and "bubbly, sparkling staff" who care about their customers and the business in which they work.

The Bulls Head website has also made a huge contribution to the success of the operation. It is currently securing between 200 and 400 visits per day and 18% of all bookings at the pub are now made on line. Its also provided the business with a vital and growing database of customers.

The Popes say they are always trying to provide something different through one-off events and a retail package which makes them stand out from rival pubs. These include the Bulls Head's theme running across the business from bicycle seats used as a bull's head feature in the bar and steaks and burgers branded with the Bull's Head logo.

The Pope's also use music to add personality to their service.

Anyone celebrating a birthday receives an unexpected musical overture to make them feel extra special and a cinema-style voiceover is used to tell customers when its last orders.

Customer service levels are measured through a "satisfaction box" inviting departing visitors to post tokens in five different marked slots starting with poor rising to excellent with staff receiving incentives according to how well they have been judged.

Heart of the community

Traditional pub entertainment such as live music nights and quizzes forms the core business of community pubs such as the Thatchers Arms at Mount Bures, Essex. But co owner Mitch Adams said embracing the internet and social networking sites are now just as vital in the fight to attract customers through his front door.

The former Mitchells & Butlers manager believes sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be increasingly used by customers deciding how and where they spend their leisure time. Adams believes proper use of internet technology has overtaken traditional forms of advertising and marketing.

He said even if pubs boasted a strong retail package of food, cask ale and entertainment, profiling what you do to the biggest audience is a pre-requisite for trading success.

"Most of your customers are probably using Facebook for example, and don't think its just younger people who tend to use it." Adams said: "We have 800 followers on Twitter and its being used more and more by our customers. Its become really important in dealing with customers and suppliers, many of whom are on it," he added. Successful events at the Thatcher's Arms have included pie and piano nights and christmas carol nights hosted by the local vicar.

Going greener

"Necessity is the mother of invention," says Richard Slade, licensee of the Battlesteads, Wark-on-Tyne, Northumberland, Green Pub of The Year and winner of the Morning Advertiser's 2010 Great British Pub of The Year.

Five years ago when Slade and wife Dee realised there was insufficient (and expensive) electricity to service their remote countryside inn they decided to explore alternative sources of energy.

Tips included: using a water displacement device in toilet cisterns, which saves ½-litre every flush; appointing an in-house green champion; siting recycling banks in the car park.

Every area of the Battlesteads operation is now geared to the cause of energy efficiency from the collection of rain water to an eco friendly self sufficient herb and vegetable garden which supplies the pub's kitchens.

One startling statistic has seen the pub's heating costs reduced by almost 50%. "We've gone from zero to green in five years and its been an amazing journey," said Slade.

Installation of the carbon neutral biomass boiler enabled the Slades to make a huge saving on the pub's heating bills. Switching from oil-fired heating to the wood-chip biomass system meant bills dropped from £22,000 to just £3,480 per year.

Growing cask ale sales

Quality beer, the right range of brands, the right price and good cellar management are four of the key elements which make up a successful cask ale offering, said Wells & Youngs strategy manager Paul Smith.

He said these four elements added up to a good reputation which enabled licensees to make more money." He said licensees had to balance the number of casks ordered each week with the number of handpulls on the bar suggesting that two containers per week should flow through each pump.

"The average pub is now selling less beer and as the rate of sale goes down quality begins to suffer. Stocking policy depends on weekly volume sales," he suggested. Smith warned of price cutting on cask ale which was seen by most consumers as a quality product.

"Research shows that cask beer can sell best when sold at the same price as lager," he told delegates.

Soft drink opportunities

Continued growth in the eating out market can fuel vital extra sales for licensees provided brands are properly marketed and promoted to customers, said Alex Lund, Coca-Cola Enterprises' shopper marketing manager for pubs, bars & clubs.

Lund said 60% of people eat out in the UK every month and the market is set to grow despite a tough economic outlook. "When you consider 34% of people order a soft drink with food it makes good promotion of brands vital," she said.

Tips for capitalising on soft drink sales revolve around presentation and serve, a visible point of sale price point together with high profile marketing of products in pubs and bars.

"We find pubs often do not give soft drinks priority and licensees tend to keep them almost hidden. A list of drinks written on a menu plus branded pictures of drinks will drive sales of soft drinks higher."

Spirits and mixers also presented big sales opportunities especially if quality brands were used, drinks were perfectly served with a visible price point. Lund said big calendar events such as Christmas presented a big opportunity and Coca-Cola Enterprises would again be promoting its Designated Driver Scheme offering free soft drinks for drivers, with special packs available to licensees.

Beer thinking

Major beer brands such as Carlsberg can help licensees maximise big events in their pubs and attract more customers, said the company's on trade category insights manager, Matt Brand.

He said pubs faced more competition than ever in a tough market and understanding what drove consumers into pubs and the on-trade in general had become essential. "Carlsberg aims to provide brands that satisfy different consumer needs and occasions and aims to provide marketing support that helps you," he said.

"It's how you make an event special enough to make people leave their homes. Try something different such as suggesting a trade up across a food and drink offer to achieve a better margin," Brand suggested." Ask yourself what you are doing on a particular night to persuade people to visit.

Put on an event linked to food which can make a quiet night into a busy one. Brand said the "lifestage cycle" meant different age groups and different social groups demanded a different type of on-trade experience. Pitching the right event and the right retail offer could make a big difference.

More to follow tomorrow

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