At a press conference to reveal the firm’s preliminary results for the 52 weeks ending 26 July 2020 at Hamilton Hall in London’s Liverpool Street station (Friday 16 October), Martin said train station pubs were trading down.
When asked if this band of sites would be the next area the company would consider job cuts (following the announcement of airport pub job losses and head office roles cut), Martin said: “Nothing is sacred, but we haven't yet considered redundancies in those locations (station pubs) but I suppose the truth is we might have to if trade remains very poor. We are hoping to avoid it. [But we have] no strategy.
“It's really, at the moment, whatever companies say, they are just operating from hand to mouth and put so much energy into reacting to what the Government does, it's very difficult to make a plan.
“When a new raft of regulations come out, imagine London, we have got 125 pubs in London, London is going into tier two, what does that mean? A phenomenal amount of work.”
The Morning Advertiser also asked Martin on any plans for acquisitions and disposals of the company’s 872-strong estate.
“We had started to be more confident and planning to open up to a dozen pubs in the next year then a dozen the year after, plus expanding some of our existing good sites into the shop next door," he said.
“We had quite big plans for they are mostly being put on ice now. I don't think many companies will be able to start expanding until they start having some feeling the crisis is over.
“It's the same issue [for disposals]. Trying to get rid of sites now would be very difficult because no one is expanding.
“We would hope, and we haven't really got many we would want to get rid of, maybe two or three, we have got rid of quite a few over the past five years, about 100 pubs and that more or less was it is for us. We have got a few that haven't yet sold. For now, I don't think we will be putting pubs on the market.”
When it comes to pubs that are currently in the tier two areas of the Government’s new system, the JDW chairman predicted what will happen to trade.
Martin added: “I wouldn't want to talk about our pubs but it's very heavy. I've seen reports of 40/50/60% down so it's only just started recently so I would think, on average, pubs will lose half their sales in those areas. It's really interesting to probe what the genuine evidence is.”
Asked what he would say if he were to meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Martin pointed to Sweden and how it has handled the pandemic.
“I'd say 'Boris, if you don't take a close look at Sweden and copy what they are doing, you are going to have massive unemployment in a while, you're going to worsen the health outcomes because Sweden is doing a lot better than us and you're going to be out of a job',” he said.
However, there have been lessons learned by JDW amid the pandemic and Martin outlined a few including embracing technology.
He explained: “There have been many small lessons. One is from the mundane, an app is a very good thing. You can do more with table service.
“There are a lot of small things related to Covid-19 and cleanliness but really most of the business lessons you get are eternal, they apply in all situations, Covid-19 or not. Zoom calls help. Technology we could make more of.”