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Mon 10th Jun 2013 - Marston’s to open first new Pitcher & Piano in five years
Marston’s to open first new Pitcher & Piano in five years: Midlands-based brewer and retailer Marston’s is opening the first new Pitcher & Piano in five years – at a site in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The first new Pitcher & Piano in half a decade follows on from four years of strong sales and profit growth in the core estate. The Hitchin site will open at the beginning of August, a conversion of the Que Pasa site in the Old Corn Exchange. Pitcher & Piano managing director Colin Sadler told Propel: “We are really excited about the opportunity to open a site in Hitchin. The town fits our site criteria, and the building is stunning. We can’t wait and we are looking at the market to identify further sites.” Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay’s recently argued that there is expansion potential for Pitcher & Piano. Sadler told the recent Propel Multi Club Conference how the brand had been turned around after it was badly affected by the credit crunch. He said: “In the advent of the financial crisis, Londoners stopped their late night partying, and unfortunately, we were more exposed than others. In focusing heavily on this late night occasion, Pitcher & Piano had also lost its after-work trade, leaving the brand in a precarious position. We spoke to customers and undertook independent research, and the feedback was brutal. Customers said they didn’t mind being educated about brands, but when it came to a busy Friday night they wanted clear labelling instead of waiting to ask a staff member about each drink. We realised also that we had moved our food offer too far away from our core customer and by focusing on the late night party crowd our bars were not where you would want to go for a meal for two. The solution, naturally, was to change the offer. We launched a ‘renaissance project’ where we tried to shift ourselves back to our original 1986 strategy, focusing again on the post work crowd. Badges were put onto pump clips, and the number of beers was increased, replacing standard lager with premium options. We also looked at the role of food because our food offer had become confused. It had become a secondary purchase after the decision to have a drink. We focused on our bestselling meal, burgers, and made them more appealing. We also looked at sharing and grazing offers, and now grazing dishes account for 28% of our sales. A Christmas menu was launched in 2009 and now each venue is virtually fully booked for the two weeks over the Christmas season. We also focused on our people, communicating and rewarding staff in different ways, including our legendary award ceremony. The investment strategy for this renaissance project took some planning. We needed to work out how we would deliver it as some of our bars which had started to look more like nightclubs. In the end it took 12 months to change our whole portfolio back into a post-work venue, and the average we spent was £120,000 per site. As part of the strategy we predicted a lower spend per head; we knew this could mean that people might visit the site more often. We also shaved 2% from our costs on wages. The collective result of this project has led to a success, with sales up since 2009 through to the present day. Pitcher & Piano venues outside of London are doing particularly well.”

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