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Fri 31st Aug 2012 - Friday Opinion

Subjects: Building loyalty, disabled access, the sector’s contribution to high streets

Authors: Robin Bratel, Ann Elliott and Alex Reilley 


Social media’s role in marketing and building loyalty by Robin Bratel 

Having read Ann Elliot's pieces on marketing in the past few weeks I thought I'd chip in with my social media perspective.

Pub venues are, by definition, social places. We go to them for a number of reasons: to chat and have fun, meet friends and family, have a business meeting with colleagues or just enjoy a bit of ‘me time’. No matter what the reason for being there, though, we want staff to be engaged and to meet our needs and we expect everything to be right, from the car park to the loo and the drink and meal in between. In return, we spend money and the more satisfied we are with the whole experience, the more we’ll spend.  

Marketing becomes much easier once you get the offer right. But how do you go about bringing the customer through the door in this brave new digitally social world and then how do you go about building loyalty? Actually, I've spoken to several marketing directors of drinks brands and operators who tell me the jury's still out on social media for them. One has well over a 100,000 Facebook likes but has not seen any obvious uplift in sales. They still believe it’s good for engagement. But with no sales line results and a serious financial commitment they are justifiably nervous.

But before you sit there and say, “I knew it! Social media is a flash in the pan!” It's not what I hear from the people on the front line. My customers that run venues say that social media really does deliver, seeing (sometimes substantial) increased custom from their efforts.  It takes expertise and local knowledge, but marry that with social media and you really can drive trade. Deloitte's recent Taste the Nation report has shown for the first time that 'social media' really does drive the going out occasion. They surveyed 3,000 people and found 61 per cent of 18-34 year- olds and a third of the rest of us consult social media (largely to hunt for offers and reviews) before deciding where to go out.

Many of those running venues realise that social media is far more than just Facebook and Twitter. It's also about websites, YouTube, Google search, mobile apps, review sites, email, SMS, and blogs  and operators understand how to utilise them to effect. Social media is hard to escape - it’s everywhere and touches nearly all of us one way or another.  A total of 53 per cent of the UK population is on Facebook according to Ofcom, 89 per cent of people have and regularly check our email and 99 per cent read a text within minutes of its arrival. Ofcom states that 40 per cent of adults own a smartphone and Zyologic research shows that 250m mobile apps were downloaded in June this year alone by those smartphone users.  

What drives traffic to just about every website?  Google search does. And those of us with a lousy sense of direction couldn’t survive without Google Maps to tell us where things are, and how to get to them. Social channels can also be used to build loyalty and everyone knows that loyal customers are repeat customers.  Former Tesco boss Terry Leahy's provide some great insights in his book,  'Management In 10 Words', particularly the chapter on loyalty. He says: “To build customer loyalty you have to be loyal to them come hell or high water.” He also points out that “customers will be loyal to an organisation if that organisation rewards their loyalty”. Using all social media channels, venues can easily reward customers loyalty in many ways, from acknowledging their birthday with an exclusive offer, to rewarding regulars with a guest list invite to an exclusive event.

The trick is to reach all relevant social channels, ensure information is up-to-date and build that all-important customer loyalty.  In our experience, the person on the front line running a venue tends to have extremely good instincts for what customers want and how to engage through social media. There’s no doubt that social media has become a powerful and inexpensive tool in building and maintaining loyalty.  
Robin Brattel is chief executive of Inapub robin@inapub.co.uk

The many arguments for making venues fully accessible by Ann Elliott

I was talking to Arnold Fewell recently (Arnold won the Special Award at the Cateys this year and he campaigns on behalf of people with disabilities) discussing accessibility in pubs, which, if I am totally honest, I don’t really know a lot about.  He has been a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte, has worked for many other companies in this industry and is now a permanent wheelchair user who runs his own marketing agency. He is truly amazing.

Arnold talked about how, quite often, he can’t even get into a pub or a restaurant for a drink or a meal because he’s confronted with steep steps that mean he can’t go any further.  There are rarely any bells to ring or buttons to press at the entrance to gain the attention of a member of staff to help him or to give him advice on how to get in (this is probably a breach of the Equality Act 2010). Even those venues that he can get in, don’t always have accessible loos. I did say that the industry is having a bit of a tough time at the moment and many sites just can’t afford to create either a level access or the space for a disabled toilet.

In Arnold’s view there is a legal, business and moral argument for making people with disabilities welcome - not just those with mobility issues but also those who are deaf and blind. 

Legal: The Equality Act 2010 (which strengthened the DDA of 2005) means that people with disabilities must legally be offered a similar service to non-disabled people.  If there is an accessible part of a venue that can be reached and service can be provided in that area, then that meets the requirements of the law, as does adapting the way the service is provided. If a pub doesn’t make any arrangements at all (such as offering a temporary ramp) then a disabled person may have a case to pursue against that pub.  As Arnold suggested, pubs and neighbouring shops could buy a portable ramp between them and use it as required.

Business: There is a strong business argument for meeting the needs of disabled people.  About one in three of us will have a disability in our life times and a disabled person is quite likely to have a carer with them so doubling potential spend on food and drink. 

Moral: Finally there is the moral argument that, as part of a caring and inclusive society, we should all ensure that everyone, regardless of disability, is welcome to eat and drink in pubs and restaurants.

Arnold raised two other issues:

1. The misuse of disabled toilets: An accessible toilet for a wheelchair user easily becomes inaccessible when it’s used as storage space for high chairs, Christmas decorations or music equipment.

2. The misuse of accessible car parking: A recent case against Tesco in New Malden suggests that the owners of accessible car parking spaces have a legal responsibility to ensure car park abuse is at least monitored and actioned whenever necessary.
 
As usual the discussion with Arnold was very thought provoking.  In answer to the question he posed: “ Should every pub have a level access for wheelchairs and an accessible toilet?” I am sure the answer in an ideal world is ‘yes’.  Is a poor economy and tough trading times an acceptable defence under the Equality Act?  I am sure the answer is ‘no’. Those that have nothing in place now to meet the needs of disabled people need to take action and to make an investment in accessible features - on legal, business and moral grounds.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliott Marketing and PR

Making a contribution to the high street by Alex Reilley

This week saw Loungers celebrate the tenth anniversary of opening Lounge café/bar in Southville, Bristol, our first ever site. Naturally there was a lot of reflection of how far the business has come in that period of time, which, in truth has far, far exceeded even our wildest expectations. But we also found ourselves recalling what North Street, the high street where Lounge is located, looked like ten years ago and speculating about the nature of the impact our opening a decade ago has had on North Street during that time. There has, of course, been an avalanche of doom and gloom headlines reporting the decline of the British high street and now a high-profile campaign to help to try to revive dying town centres. But in our experience there are also a number of positive high street stories that go unreported.

Growing Loungers has obviously meant a lot of travelling to cities and towns I had never previously visited. And whilst some areas of the UK are clearly heavily blighted by the effects of recession, it is also apparent that a number of historic town and city centres have heavily declined more of a result of ill thought-out planning decisions than recession. For sure, recession hasn’t helped but new shopping developments built in off-centre brownfield locations have, in some cases, decimated the historic shopping hearts of towns and cities, High Wycombe and Leicester being two such examples.

Our business model focuses almost exclusively on suburban, neighbourhood locations of cities where our focus is on secondary high streets. These high streets are different as they are less affected by new development although they too have changed in the last ten years. On a number of secondary high streets the independent food retailer has found the likes of Tesco et al to be too powerful and as a result the grocer, the butcher and the fishmonger have disappeared, possibly for ever. However, on other secondary high streets the independents have survived and even begun to fight back. It is on these secondary high streets where you will, without
exception, find food and drink outlets playing a major, and in some cases leading, role.

North Street in Southville is very different to ten years ago. For one, the success of our opening coupled with other openings at the time saw a plethora of other food and drink businesses opening up. This has given the high street a night-time economy that barely existed previously, but has also drawn increasing numbers of people onto the high street during the day. These people shop as a by-product of going for a latte, having a spot of lunch, or having a cheeky daytime pint. This, in turn, has seen the ‘sacred cow’ independent retailers, not just survive, but flourish through increased footfall on the high street. Whilst some independent shops have closed they have been replaced with delis, baby clothes retailers and other symbols of a younger local population who passionately support their local
high street.

It strikes me that the role of food and drink operations is often overlooked and, in some cases, demonised. Yet, in our experience, every high street where we have opened ‘a Lounge’ has, to varying degrees, benefited. In 2010, we opened in Southbourne, Bournemouth, in the former Woolworths. The local traders’ association was unbelievably supportive of our opening. This wasn’t just because we were bringing the largest empty unit on the high street back into use but because traders believed, rightly, that us opening would have a positive ripple effect on the rest of the high street. Two years ago, there were a number of empty shops, now there’s barely any - and what has opened has been a great mix of food/drink and retail use and, with the exception of a Costa, is local, independently-owned.

Clearly with our multi-faceted offer we have enjoyed very respectable financial success over the last ten years but what is more important to us, and has always been the main focus of the business, is the positive effect we have on people’s lives and on their high streets. The next ten years are a hugely exciting prospect for Loungers and we’ve got very high expectations of what we can achieve. In my view, in order for us to, at the very least, meet those expectations we need to remain steadfastly focused and respectful of our customers and their local area. Clearly with scale this will be a major challenge for the business. But we’ve got a really great team who understand the cause and when we reflect how far we’ve come in our first 10 years quite frankly anything seems possible.
Alex Reilley is managing director of Loungers
 

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