Turning Craft Beer into a Thriving Pub Business

Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Wed, 02/03/2016 - 10:00

The common misconceptions that come with running a pub continue to be proved wrong with simple ideas, entrepreneurial spirit and solid team work. As Alan and Peter Kelly have shown in turning the Three Cups fortunes around, running a pub really can be a great business idea. Plus, they get to sell their own brand craft beer in the process.

It would be all too easy for anyone considering starting their own business to dismiss the idea of running a pub. The reality is that the pub does not have to be the whole business. Increasingly the pub is becoming a physical outlet for a bigger business. Whether that is a food brand, boutique accommodation or in the case of the Three Cups, craft beer, the opportunity to innovate has never been greater.

The reason good pubs are thriving is that on a basic level, people want to go out. And, when they do, they want a high quality experience.

The Three Cups in Bedford is a classic example. It had been a popular pub but its fortunes were on a downward slide. For all the most common reasons pubs can fail, this old style ‘winter boozer’ was losing customers and money. To Alan and Peter Kelly, craft beer producers and owners of the White Park Brewery, this was the perfect opportunity.

The brothers had started brewing their own beer in 2007. They both loved their beer and were pleased to find that other people loved it too, so they began to sell it to local pubs and restaurants. Word spread and so did their popularity – now they even supply guest beers for a well-known pub chain.

What was once a hobby had now become a serious business. However, what they really wanted was an outlet where they could sell their beer, but, this was not easy to find. Most pub companies tied them into stock agreements which meant they couldn’t sell their own brew, and pubs that were free-of-tie were expensive and impractical.

‘We knew what we wanted to do but were frustrated,’ says Alan. ‘That’s when a friend, Beverly-Jo, suggested the Three Cups as a possible solution. We had been talking about working together for years. Beverly had been managing the pub and knew exactly what the place needed. It had been a great business but had gradually seen sales decline over the years and needed a new injection of life.’

The good news was that the Three Cups was owned by Greene King, which had recently introduced an innovative new approach for their tenanted pubs called Local Hero.

Craft beer entrepreneurs

Local Hero allows pub landlords to stock up to 50% of their own beer products alongside Greene King’s famous stable of traditional cask ales. It was the perfect scenario for Andy and Peter as it provided them with a quick and low cost means to establish an outlet for their own brand. What’s more, Beverly wanted to continue running the pub too, so it was an easy solution to appoint her as the pub’s manager.

When they took on the business it was what Alan calls ‘a men’s boozer’. Alan took time to meet customers and understand the business. They decided that the Local Hero concept would work on many levels, enabling them to refocus the business. Thanks to a friendlier atmosphere and the hard work of all the staff at the Three Cups, the male to female ratio of customers is now 50/50.

Great tasting, home cooked food is a winner

To firmly position the Three Cups as part of the community, they needed someone who could prepare simple, fresh food using local ingredients. They found Denise, a chef who lived nearby, and talked to her about providing a traditional, home cooked pub menu. They make every effort to source the best, local ingredients they can. For example, their new menu uses locally-reared beef from cattle fed with the spent grain from the brewery. Ham, egg and twice-cooked chips are the most popular dish they serve, ‘If you cook simple food, the ingredients speak for themselves,’ says Alan. ‘We also like to add little surprises to keep customers interested – like bringing out freshly baked pork pies in the evenings. They soon get snapped up!’

Making your pub somewhere people want to visit

Beverly’s husband, Pete, is in charge of music for a nearby nightclub, so music and entertainment have also played a big part in the pub’s revival. They have a regular ‘Old Geezer’ band as well as folk music and other live musicians. This is supplemented by quiz nights, which keep customers coming back.

Traditionally, the Three Cups had been a winter pub and Alan’s new project has been to develop the garden and provide an amazing outside space for customers. ‘It’s going to add a completely new dimension to the business and boost profits too. Customers have already started using it and the whole thing will be open and ready for the summer 2015 holidays,’ Alan adds.

Transferring skills to build a successful pub business

Before starting on this journey, Alan had a background in technology and finance. ‘There’s one thing for certain’ he says, ‘The Three Cups has one of the best run operating systems in the business. It may be overkill for just one pub but we don’t intend to stop there. This gives us a ready-made solution for expanding our empire – we may eventually plan to have several pubs up and running!

There has never been a better time to start a business and a pub is very real option. People with an entrepreneurial spirit, commitment for customer service and desire to do something different are breathing life into pub businesses. There is a misconception that running a pub is too much work and a big risk but in reality, what job is not hard work? Add to that the freedom to be your own boss, play a role in your community and expand your success across other locations, then I think it is no surprise great pubs are thriving.

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