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Diversification - A Team Effort - Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

Let’s be blunt, navigating the obstacles of running pubs is no small feat! From the hurdles of recruitment difficulties, a transient workforce, seasonality to rising prices or being seen as a soft target for theft, – the list goes on. That’s without COVID-19, road closures and other unforeseen circumstances ripe for future blogs!


Amid these challenges, the concept of diversification became a glaring need. My son's suggestion to invest in an outdoor bar was an important strategy for ensuring all our ‘eggs were not in one basket’, with any profit not being ‘rentalised’ in our next rent review.


The journey began with the acquisition of a 22-foot outdoor bar, a bit of a monster in its own right. After a meticulous refurbishment process, we struck a beneficial deal with Greene King (distinct from our pub-co) to outfit the bar, provided we sourced our alcohol from them, without paying inflated prices.


Our first winter was a sobering experience. The bustling atmosphere of our pub quickly ebbed, leaving us mostly reliant on room sales, predominantly from contractors rather than the endless stream of summer tourists we had enjoyed in our first season. This lull presented an opportunity for our adaptable staff to shine. One proactive team member sifted through our event directory and engaged with organisers, leading to a breakthrough opportunity. A week later, my son and I found ourselves celebrating outside offices in Lincoln, having secured slots at major events including Status Quo, UB40, and the Land Rover Show.


Who would have thought that a bored bartender, sat in a quiet pub one cold, wintry day in Salisbury, could have led to such an exciting opportunity.  This just highlights the benefits of having engaged staff in your team!


Another eye-opening lesson was the reluctance of high street banks to lend to the pub industry. Our quest for a loan to purchase beer for our first concert was met with disdain and rejection. With a freshly signed contract in hand, we approached our own bank and our nominated business manager (yes, they used to be such a thing!), came out and took a look round the pub.  Forty-five minutes later, we sat down and explained what we were asking.  His response was one of the most patronising and disappointing things I have ever heard.  He told us that the answer was no, but we should think ourselves lucky, as normally he would not spend more than 10 minutes in a pub before refusing a loan application.


Luckily we found a much better alternative solution, we managed to get the beer on sale or return.  However, the dismissive attitude of the bank manager still lingers in my memory, reflecting a disappointing broader reluctance in the banking sector to invest in the pub trade, as we tried other high street banks too.


Our venture into diversifying with an outdoor bar not only expanded our revenue streams but also highlighted the importance of having a versatile and dedicated team. I hope this story can inspire other pub owners to think outside the box and harness the potential within their teams. Whether it is exploring new business models, building strategic partnerships or organising unique events, the possibilities are endless.  In fact, the future of the pub industry lies in our ability to evolve, adapt and innovate. And it is definitely a team approach.


If you are enjoying these blogs – please share the link and help me to help struggling pubs in the UK!


A picture of a busy festival with a busy bar in the forefront.

 

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