‘We aren’t out of the woods yet’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Operator panel: (l-r) Sacha Lord, Martin Wolstencroft and Tobias Jackson outlined their concerns about city venues
Operator panel: (l-r) Sacha Lord, Martin Wolstencroft and Tobias Jackson outlined their concerns about city venues

Related tags: MA500, London, Manchester, Leeds

Urban-based operators voiced their concerns for city centre businesses amid reopening and looking ahead due to rules on public transport and customers wanting to stay local.

Leeds-based Arc Inspirations boss Martin Wolstencroft, London-focused Adventure Bar Group co-founder Tobias Jackson and the Night-Time Advisor for Greater Manchester and operator Sacha Lord informed viewers of the second MA500 digital conference this month (Thursday 16 July) on the how reopening has impacted them.

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Jackson said: “It's been tough so far. We haven't opened two of our venues, we decided to keep them closed. They are both in zone one. Our busiest bars are in zone two - Clapham Junction and Clapham High Street and the bars in central London we have opened around zone one have been tough so far.

“We have found people aren't travelling quite as far to go out unless they've got a very big reason to. Overall it has been tough and it's not particularly excited compared to before.”

Arc Inspirations has sites in Leeds and across the north, including Manchester and chief executive Martin Wolstencroft outlined how the sites are performing.

He added: “My understanding is Leeds is a bit busier than Manchester at the moment, in terms of footfall. Similar to what Tobias is saying, people are sticking closer to home. Our suburban sites, we have got 17 sites in total, and our suburban sites are outperforming our city centre sites. 

“The bigger the city, the less chance of people going there. If you have got sites operating around central business districts and office and corporate markets, those are the ones struggling more than the suburban offerings.”

Not good

Sacha Lord is also an operator running the Warehouse Project (a series of club nights) and Parklife Festival.

He said: “Undoubtedly, the city centres are going to take the longest to recover. Footfall is a lot quieter. You look at Manchester city centre at the moment, all the office trade has gone.

“People are working from home. Manchester City and Manchester United aren't playing with supporters there, you take that out of the equation. It's not good.

“The positive from this, what we are seeing in Greater Manchester, out of the 10 boroughs, city centre being one of them, the other nine boroughs are really flourishing.

“This could be a real time for the independent local bars and pubs to flourish. People don't want to take public transport, people don't want to risk taxis and they staying local.”

Jackson echoed comments on suburban sites performing better than city centres in the present climate.

He added: “The suburban sites are in a strong position right now. We have a couple and I wish the independents really well.

“We are a large independent. We came from one site 15 years ago and that's a really good bonus but we can't forget about the central London operators.

“We have got the highest rents, in a lot of regards we have got the stingiest landlords as well and currently we have had no support on rent other than the rent moratorium, which is a time bomb, just like the furlough in some regards.

“We are not out of the woods yet and there's still a lot of fighting to do.”

Customer patterns

However, Wolstencroft outlined he had seen a spending pattern begin to emerge upon reopening his sites.

He said: “We have seen people trading up. One of our sites did 19 Grey Goose bottles on a table the other night. 

“We sold more Champagne that we have ever done. We are seeing people who are going out in their 'two social households' is treating each other, trading up, buying the martini trees.

“There's definitely a trend there. When people are going out, they are willing to spend more and treat themselves and other people in their group.”

Related topics: MA Leaders Club

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