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Fri 29th Jun 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Beavertown deal is simply business, why I forgave gastro-pubs and how to attain customer loyalty
Authors: Elton Mouna, Glynn Davis and Ann Elliott

Beavertown deal is simply business by Elton Mouna

The Heineken investment in Beavertown takes me back to a thought I had in December. It was Christmas Eve and I was in a branch of Jo Malone. The tiny shop was chock-a-block with stressed men buying last-minute perfume for their better halves. I remember asking myself: “How many of these chaps know Jo Malone is owned by Estée Lauder?” I also remember thinking: “If any of them do know, would they give two hoots?” I reckon none of the customers in that shop knew and certainly wouldn’t have given a single hoot, let alone two. They simply wanted to purchase their gifts and get to the pub for a celebratory pint of Beavertown, Camden or Dark Star as a reward for sorting out the missus’ present in the nick of time.

The fact is, our sector is just like the perfume industry – brands start small, get bigger and sometimes get sold to the big boys and girls. That’s business, that’s life, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. But in our sector people, particularly brewers, become precious and mount their high horses, publicly dismissing the actions of both the David and Goliath involved in the deal for having the audacity to do business together.

After the Beavertown-Heineken story broke, one whinger, who constantly seeks cheap, self-focused publicity, announced on Twitter in their usual spoilt child throwing their toys out of the pram way: “We will no longer sell Beavertown beers or attend Beaver Ex.” Heineken must be quaking in its giant boots. 

Hold on, though, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t the chap tweeting this from a company that is 22%-owned by a private equity company that sells beer to Tesco, BP and massive competitor-gobbling pub companies? You know who I mean, what’s-his-name from the company that invested in another brewery in 2014 and then changed its mind? 

Truth be known, I haven’t got a problem with any of the things listed above. Good luck to anyone if they can sell their products to massive conglomerates. Invest away in other breweries, that’s what I say. Good for you for getting into bed with a PE to grow your company. Thumbs up. Do it. We are all in business. I do have a problem, however, with hypocrisy. In fact I feel so strongly about it (and I know it’s the inner child in me speaking when I say the next bit) let me say right now there are 15 lovely central London boozers that will happily continue listing Beavertown but will not consider listing any brands produced by you-know-who. There, said it. 

In summary, my Friday Opinion is this. Fair play to you Logan. Fair play to you too Jasper and fair play to the bloke from Dark Star who just sold to Fuller’s. Rest assured I will still list your beers and will be doing so because they’re very good-quality beers and are what my customers want. 
 
Finally, on behalf of all those chaps in that tiny Jo Malone shop in the City of London, thank you Estée Lauder for all those brownie points we earned on Christmas Day and good luck to the nicely wedged up Jo Malone herself. She has started Jo Loves now and may be on the way to building her second perfume empire. That’s what happens – it’s business.
Elton Mouna is managing director of privately owned London pub collection Remarkable Pubs

Why I forgave gastro-pubs by Glynn Davis

In early 2007 I visited young businessman Philip Mossop at Bacchus, the restaurant he had recently set up in Hoxton, London, which provided the platform for little-known Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes to make his name and go on to great success.

My interest was in Mossops’ objective of delivering “fine dining in trainers” as he so cleverly phrased it. He was referring to the fact Mendes’ high-end food was being served in a former pub and that he had scant interest in turning it into a stuffy experience.

His views fitted neatly into a piece I was writing that predicted the death of the gastro-pub. He openly boasted he had not sold a single pint of beer in the six months since he had been open – although he did admit to one diner ordering half a Guinness!

This perfectly encapsulated my distaste and distrust of the gastro-pub phenomenon. Far too often they were smart restaurants masquerading as laid-back boozers. Nobody was really welcome to pop into these places and have a pint while they read the paper before going home for dinner – and this went against what I believed pubs should be about.

Earlier this year I made the effort to visit renowned north London gastro-pub The Bull And Last. It made me realise that in the intervening years my negative views on gastro-pubs might have become out-dated. The prediction of their death had certainly not come to pass.

While I admit this reflects on my changing perspective – for one thing being 11 years older makes a difference to any viewpoint – we also have a very different market place to that of 2007.

For starters, the smoking ban came into place a mere two months after my story was published, then the financial crisis began in late 2007. The sub-prime mortgage market collapsed in the US, triggering the implosion of Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, among others. These two seismic events wreaked havoc on pubs and the aftershock is still being felt today.

I’ve come to understand that while I’m not going to be the most frequent gastro-pub visitor, I have at least come to value their presence rather than having a tendency to denigrate them as I did in the past.

Thousands of pubs have been lost in the past ten-plus years, which is why the gastro-pub has been such a valuable proposition – without it we would no doubt have suffered even more pub closures. It’s the case today that the vast majority of pubs have to offer some kind of food and the better end of the pub dining experience – as typically delivered by the gastro-pub – has undoubtedly pushed up customers’ expectations across the board. These food-led boozers have played their part in universally improving the quality of food served in pubs.

My changed viewpoint sits comfortably with that of academic Christel Lane, who argues in her recent book that gastro-pubs have had a positive impact on pub culture rather than gentrifying this unique British icon, which was my big worry a decade ago.

She also suggests gastro-pubs have been unfairly criticised for sterilising the traditional wet-led boozer. I apologise for being part of that critical grouping – but I’ve changed my ways.

So much so I welcomed the reopening of two gastro-pubs – The Coach in the City of London (formerly The Coach & Horses) and The Hero of Maida (formerly renowned food pub The Truscott Arms) in the west of the capital. This partly comes from the fact they are both overseen by chef Henry Harris, who I was a big fan of when he was at French brasserie Racine. If there is one person who can deliver gutsy food suited to a pub environment, it is this man.

What such a move highlights is gastro-pubs have moved to a much more mature footing. High-quality food sits so much more comfortably in a pubby ambience now and we have the full spectrum – from Michelin star venues all the way down to much more laid-back establishments.

We have progressed from the early stages of the gastro-pub movement, when good food in pubs was seen as something of an oxymoron. They were uneasy bedfellows in my opinion. We’ve firmly moved on from boil-in-the-bag cod to sea bass sous vide and I’m pleased to say I’ve also made the journey to the extent I sometimes enjoy a bit of fine dining in the pub while wearing my dusted-down trainers.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

How to attain customer loyalty by Ann Elliott

Yet again I heard someone presenting at a conference last week say: “The consumer is becoming increasingly fickle.” On this occasion, however, the phrase wasn’t followed by the usual: “Consumer loyalty is a thing of the past.” 

I fundamentally disagree with both statements. Fickle is defined as “likely to change your opinion or your feelings suddenly and without a good reason”, while loyalty is described as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance… staying firm in your support for something”.

I don’t believe customers stop using a brand for no reason at all or don’t remain loyal to brands they really like. It’s a mirror image – when customers are happy they’re more likely to be loyal and less likely to be fickle. Of course we all know there are many more places to eat out now despite recent closures – the customer has much more choice and consumer spending in the market place is flat. However, we also know highly successful brands that do well year after year despite this potential dilution of sales. 

Having listened to a lot of customers during the past few months across pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and contract caterers, I think loyalty is driven by a number of different factors.

The first is consistency. Customers trust brands that deliver the same quality of experience (food, drink, service, ambience and value for money) every time they visit. They remember their last few visits and want this visit to be just as good, if not better. They also want an operator to recover the situation brilliantly if the experience isn’t that great and we all know a rescued customer is more loyal than one who never complained in the first place. They don’t want to worry that they (or their guests) will be disappointed.  

Of course, value for money is absolutely vital but this is a motherhood statement because no-one builds a business around delivering poor value for money. This isn’t about discounts, promotion or simply being cheap but about ensuring the whole package is perceived to be worth more than the customer thought they would have to pay. They want the balance to be right between quality, added value, service and price. 

Loyalty schemes work if they are seen to fit with the values of the brand, feel personalised to the individual, and the benefits are tangible and relevant. They work if all the other elements of the brand also work but do more harm than good if they don’t – consumers become cynical very quickly if the brand is not aligned in its promise, delivery and execution.

The on-site team is fundamental in helping customers become loyal. There are few things more appealing to a customer than a team member recognising them and welcoming them like a friend. It’s a cliche to treat guests as if they are eating in your own home but customers recognise and appreciate it. In fact, they love it. It is human nature to want to be recognised and treated like an individual, although this doesn’t mean a 15-minute conversation with a customer when they are trying to pay a bill – a genuine smile is enough!

Loyalty is created by an operator putting itself in its customer’s shoes and ensuring every step of the journey has been thought through from their perspective – externals, welcome, ordering, food and drink delivery, toilets, value for money, payment, goodbye. There can’t be one discordant note. Brands have to deliver what they say they are going to deliver because, if they don’t, customers don’t come back. That’s not being fickle. It’s just choosing not to reward an indifferent operator with repeat custom. 

Get it all right and customers will be loyal. They want to be – we can hardly blame them if they aren’t.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

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