The three keys to Urban Village Pubs’ success

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Village people: the Urban Village Pubs team celebrates victory at the Publican Awards in March 2023
Village people: the Urban Village Pubs team celebrates victory at the Publican Awards in March 2023

Related tags Pubco + head office Multi-site pub operators Property Social responsibility

Making a community a stronger place is one of the reasons why Urban Village Pubs won Best Community Pub winner at the Publican Awards, according to the pubco’s co-founder Ian Grundy.

The south-east based business that runs eight sites has a mix of qualities that, when combined, makes it shine.

Grundy says: “There are many factors that go into making a great community pub. Those include the products you sell, the great service, great team, valued facilities to name a few. There’s a triumvirate of key factors, firstly, that you bring something to the community where you and the team can honestly say ‘the community is made better or stronger by your presence’. In other words, you know your offer and facilities adds to that community. 

“The second point is what you offer needs to be accessible and attractive to a wide group of people, whether it be your range of beers, the facilities, the value, etc. And finally is how you engage with that community, to not only let them know what is available and what you offer, but enables the community and your customers to be proud of their local, through areas such as sustainability, supporting local groups and initiatives within that community.”

The business saw off competition from Greene King, Stonegate and Admiral Taverns to secure the prized category victory with Grundy stating there were USPs that ultimately gave it the edge.

He says on the inception of Urban Village Pubs, community pubs hadn’t evolved with possible exception of heavily food-led businesses in the same way that more city centre urban locations had done so. Therefore, the pubco took some of the more exciting innovations within the urban pub environment such as drink ranges, competitive socialising, open kitchens and meeting rooms, and mixed these with the values of traditional village local pub, such as “thinking local, acting local, everyone welcome and the real heartbeat of the community”.

“We were bringing things such as darts, shuffleboard, table tennis, foosball, etc., a beer range that covers not only craft beer but what we would refer to as gateway products that are fairly common now, such as Beavertown, BrewDog, etc.,” Grundy adds.

Free of charge spaces

He continues: “We have what we call ‘Village Halls’, which are meeting spaces that can be used free of charge by local businesses or local community groups for meetings and functions and then open kitchens.

“One of the things we’re most proud of is when we take people around to our sites, they can clearly see the similarities in the operation as in what makes a village pub but also they can see the differences between our sites because we give a huge amount of autonomy to our teams to flex our operation to suit the community within which they work.”

He says this approach can only work when the head office is close enough to the site to be confident the core principles and guidelines of the company are followed. Additionally, being a company with eight pubs gives it flexibility and speed of movement, which is possibly difficult for the larger companies to do. 

Six out of its eight of pubs were boarded up or purchased out of administration when they were acquired so Urban’s involvement really added to those communities.

“The facilities added ‘play’ to the traditional meet and eat of a community pub,” Grundy explains. “We have a system with our pubs called Only A High Street, which is very much about setting up links, communication and rewards local small businesses, large businesses, offices, shops and other pubs, and tries to push the fact the pub should be absolutely the centre of that community.”

The business plans to continue to build relationships within the communities and seek new ways of engaging to the benefits of both the pub and the community in the coming year.

Raising money for community defibrillators in many of the sites where there isn’t one openly available to the public is one of its objectives.

Their input makes a difference

“Our aim is to ensure every team member is just as passionate about their pub as Gavin (Drew) and myself are and that can only happen if there’s a great working environment,” Grundy says. “They feel they are listened to and heard, and their ideas and input really makes a difference.

“We’ve already done a lot of work on sustainability. Our ‘Village Green’, as we call this initiative, means we already have 100% renewable electricity and 100% offset gas. We’ve reduced plastic as much as we can, our washroom waste always goes to power generation rather than landfill but there’s always more we can do.”

Urban Village Pubs agreed all its energy contracts prior to the worst of the energy crisis. The rates it pays are substantially below where Government support kicks in.

“There’s a dark cloud on the horizon when our contracts run out in a year’s time but we’re already starting to look at that,” he says. “On business rates, because of our size, the Government’s support has been pretty helpful because we’re receiving a 75% reduction in business rates.”

However, Grundy would like to see the Government come forward with a lower VAT rate specifically for hospitality and also laments the shortage of available labour and how that pushes up wage rates and is coupled with large increases in the minimum wage. “On one hand it’s great we can pay our teams more but it does put a pressure on the cost line at a time where it’s not easy to be increasing prices if you want to remain accessible and be a part of the community.”

He is also wary of how the cost-of-living crisis will affect Urban Village Pubs’ customer base. He explains: “Sales are performing really well. We’re really happy with the top line. Our ‘wet led with fresh food’ model is in a really good position within the marketplace.

“We are picking up business from casual dining and some gastro operators because we’re seen as a little bit more accessible and probably give a bit more as an overall experience and offer value for money where our price point is but how that develops over the coming months if the inflationary pressures don’t drop is difficult to pinpoint at the moment.”

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