‘Unstable’ marketing approach pays off for London operator

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Coronavirus

One award-winning operator is refusing to allow the current coronavirus crisis to dampen his spirits and is approaching the situation with a sense of humour.

Heath Ball, owner of the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London, has managed to build up a reasonable takeaway trade for both food and wine in a bid to keep his business ticking over during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While he’s furloughed some of his team and “gone into survival mode” by keeping key members of staff on, he said he couldn’t afford for the “music to stop” entirely and said having no cash flow would be “like a death sentence”.

Ball said: “I looked at what others were doing by going down the shop route, but that’s not something I’m good at, so I went down the route of what I do really well, which is wine and food.

“I teamed up with my wine supplier and put together a retail wine offer for the drinks side and, for the food side, did an easy menu that we could navigate round the kitchen quite quickly and deliver hot.”

He said he couldn’t sell wine for the price normally in the pub so he was selling wine like an “indy wine shop” with a 30% mark up and said the product was selling well, providing “interesting wines that you wouldn’t find in the supermarkets”.

Ball added: “The customer gets some really good value, we’re moving stock and we’re keeping the wheels of industry moving.”

He urged operators to play to their strengths and look at what they do well, and how they can translate that to a takeaway business.

Humorous approach

One thing Ball and his team are doing well is when it comes to marketing their services with a sense of humour.

Working with Marcus Grant, the manager of one of his other sites, the Wenlock Arms in Hoxton, east London, the pair have started promoting the takeaway wine offer on social media with videos, often creating parodies of famous films and characters (and with some scene-stealing appearances from Ball’s daughter Poppy).

He said: “There’s enough doom and gloom out there. We just thought we’d mess around and keep it light-hearted, have a bit of fun and drive the business that way. We’re giving people something to laugh at, even if it’s at our expense.”

For operators looking to follow his example, he offered this advice: “Do what comes naturally, do what you think works – this obviously works for us because we’re a bit unstable and we like a laugh.”

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