‘Consumer confidence is most important aspect for operators’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Virtual conference: a number of voices from the trade outlined how consumer confidence and safety in venues are crucial
Virtual conference: a number of voices from the trade outlined how consumer confidence and safety in venues are crucial

Related tags: MA500, Multi-site pub operators, Consumer confidence, Legislation

Building customer confidence in a safe space should be a top priority for the trade, operators, suppliers and experts urged in a virtual MA500 conference today (Thursday 1 October).

CGA director of client services Jonathan Jones, Molson Coors on-trade category controller Mark Bentley, Everards head of business development Dave Pawson and Incipio CEO Ed Devenport outlined their views on how the trade is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Jones broke down data coming from businesses outlining how they are recovering since reopening and amid the plethora of restrictions being enforced.

“Broadly speaking, since the end of lockdown trade has actually recovered faster than we first predicted," he said. "About 80% to 85% of outlets are back open and trading now and until most recent week, sales per outlet were down about 24%.

"We have seen a dip in that since the most recent regulations have come in so trade this week has been down about 36% on a per outlet basis but that is the first weekend since the restrictions have come into place.

"Operators haven’t really had time to respond to those changes yet and we are confident they will improve.

“Pubs have come back faster than bars but that doesn’t mean the occasions we were seeing in bars prior to lockdown have been lost but those occasions are moving more towards the pub market, which presents challenges for pub operators.

“They are getting different consumers in for different occasions and they need to be really aware of that going forward. “It is going to be a very difficult quarter four but there are some positive signs coming through. Until the most recent restrictions, trade had been recovering faster than we first predicted.

“For a ballpark figure for 2020 we would be expected somewhere between 50 and 55% decline v the previous year and recovery back up to about 85% of previous levels in 2021.”

Remaining adaptable and flexible to the ever-changing rules and regulations is one piece of advice Incipio’s Devenport laid out.

“It’s a tricky market," he said. "The rules change, they are changing. You’ve got to evolve and adapt going forward and continue to be creative ad try and solve the problems.

“It’s a challenge we have got to roll with. Those are the rules and we have to play within that. It is critical going forward is to keep the high-quality customer experience because if you aren’t doing that, you’re not going to get the customers in the first place.”

Trading impact

Across Everards’ 175-strong estate, sales and trends have been a mixed bag and Pawson explained how local lockdowns have impacted the business.

“Because we have got a really broad estate, we are seeing different things in different places," he added. "When we first came out [of lockdown], things were slower and we were impacted by Leicester lockdown, we had 20 odd pubs that weren’t able to open from 4 July.

“We then started to see trade started to climb pretty quickly. When we had Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO), some pubs reporting their best trading days ever.

“The city centre pubs been impacted more than community pubs, there is definitely a trend of customers wanting to stay in their immediate locality rather than travel on public transport. It’s mixed across the piece.

“We have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly trade did return up until the latest restrictions have come into place.

“The announcements knocked consumer confidence in terms of actually going into pubs but we can believe customers will then start to adjust to the new reality and start getting into normality and retuning to the pub thereafter."

Fellow multiple operator Incipio has learnt lessons throughout the closure period and has benefitted from Government initiatives.

“We focused our business purely ensuring we left lockdown a better business than the one we went into it so we came out of it with a variety of systems and enthusiasm to get back in the game," Devenport added.

“The first week or two after lockdown was a nervous period particularly for operators and customers but this got better and better each week. We saw our like-for-likes [sales] margin narrowing the longer it went.

“Over the past month or two, you’ve still got the EOTHO scheme was good at filling the venues but the better impact of that was confidence it gave consumers.

“The curfew and the rule of six is not so much trade coming out, it’s the confidence being sucked out of the market again and is going to make it tricky. It’s peaks and troughs, evolving around the Government.”

Big challenge

Giving a supplier perspective, Molson Coors’ Bentley reiterated Devenport’s thoughts on the rollercoaster of the pandemic.

“It is peaks and troughs," he said. "We are having conversations on a daily basis trying to make sense of what we are hearing from our customers and all around in the trade and forecasts change seem to change by the minute depending on who you speak to.

“As more and more restrictions come down the impact on consumer confidence is the real big challenge. For operators, focus on some of the basics, safety is continually coming out as top of the list of consumer concerns. Those venues that are able to show they have safety covered and provide that reassurance that is a factor to get people through the door.

“When people go out people are getting a great experience, about 40% of people CGA brand track their experience in venues exceeded their expectations, that is what sets the hospitality industry apart, the ability to give people a great experience.

"If it keeps delivering , build consumer confidence up and you’ll get them coming back time and time again.”

Everards’ Pawson echoed the importance of fuelling consumer confidence to ensure pubgoers keep returning.

“A lot of our pubs are really connected with local community and being able to connect with them directly on social or word of mouth, how they are operating as pubs, has been really important,” he said.

“The safety aspect is right at the front of everybody’s mind when leaving reviews, they are talking about ‘felt safe’ before anything else.

“Thereafter, we are still here, there are lots of innovation around offers so a lot of the different ways of doing things

“Comedy nights that would normally be in the pubs are shifting into gardens. The things happening in gardens like pods or covered areas and developments there are clearly communicated to customers. That is helping people to respond, feel a lot safer and being able to go to the pub and actually enjoy it, which is something customers are thinking about as well.

“’Am I going to the pub or am I going to a prison camp?’ By that communication, they get the idea they are going to the pub and can have a good time.”

Related topics: MA500 Business Club

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