Running a pub: The benefits of industry experience

In this post we look at how experienced landlords are ideally placed to take on new pub tenancies. Perhaps you’ve had a break from the pub trade for while and want to get back into it, or may be you already have a pub (or pubs) and would like a new challenge.

Experience can count for a lot when it comes to running a pub. It can help you identify which pubs are the most suitable for you – and could ultimately lead to the creation of a small pub empire of your own.

Having operated a pub before, it is much easier for a new landlord to go in and take over instantly.  You can effectively hit the ground running. There are no hesitations or worries about whether you are doing the right thing at any point, simply because you already know the business. 

Your main concern is quite simple, not how do I run the pub, but how can I make it even more successful than it already is? 

Advantages Of Pub Experience

So what are the advantages that pub experience brings? Clearly, someone who has already run a pub has all the practical skills that are necessary. You will know how to change casks, how to pull pints and serve customers. You will have the basic financial and marketing skills relevant to pub operation.  You will know the industry – the different beers and spirits, how to gauge what people like and what will sell in your area.  You will already have excellent customer care and service skills, and if food is one of your interests – will be skilled at choosing menus, recruiting chefs and running a pub food business.

People with experience will also know how to access and attract the potential customers who live close to the pub.  It is these potential customers who will inevitably provide your long term clientele because they will be more willing to come regularly. After all, they will not even have to drive to the pub so will not have to worry about drink-driving issues.

Such experience also tells you what improvements need to be made to the pub, be it immediately or in the long term.  Someone with existing knowledge of the pub industry will recognise where money needs to be spent to upgrade or change a pub such as adding in dining facilities, providing an improved bar menu, bringing in music or adding in more events. You can develop the business without losing the character of the pub that attracted you (and your customers) to it in the first place.

Experience tells when you need to work with the local community. Perhaps you want to bring in changes to a pub, or respond to problems within your local community. Knowing who to contact, who to talk to and when to listen can make a tremendous difference to your chances of success.  Publicans can often find there are unexpected opportunities arising out of such community contact, and previous experience in the pub trade can allow you to maximise those opportunities.

Marketing Experience

Then there is marketing experience to be considered. This is increasingly important given the busy lives we all lead. We all have so much choice these days: different pubs, different restaurants, and different ways of spending our leisure time. As an experienced publican, you want people to choose to come to your pub.  To do that, they have to be given reasons – and informed why your pub is their best choice.  It may be because your pub offers the best beer, or the best food, or has a special event planned. 

A great example of how publicans can use their experience, and the economies of scale if they already have another pub, is The Elizabethan in Dunfermline. Here landlords Andrena Smith-Bowes and Alan Bowes and turned this pub into a really viable, profitable business.

With six pubs already, they were able to take advantage of centralised resources to market the business.  They could work on the re-launch of The Elizabethan and let potential customers know about the reopening.  They had the resources to fund 25,000 leaflets that could be used in door drops, as well as postings on Facebook pages and Twitter announcements. Experience also showed in their promotional activity as the leaflets included 25% off a meal, a deal which encouraged local people to come in and try the new menus. 

Likewise there was issue of what to sell behind the bar.  Their knowledge of the locality and of the pub industry meant that they could make the right choices from the beginning as Andrena points out,

“We knew from the start that the pub needed to offer premium drinks. When customers visit us, they expect the best food and best service so it made sense to offer the best drinks too. Yes, we have standard lagers like Tennents and Carling on the bar, but there are also upsell options so people can treat themselves.  Cask ale is becoming increasingly popular in Scotland and Greene King IPA is always available.”

Andrena’s experience as a publican also recognised the opportunity to promote alternatives such a Greene King’s craft lager but craftily rebadged it as ‘North of the Forth’ which gives it a local touch, thus responding to the increasing desire for local products.  Her industry knowledge also revealed that gin is also becoming popular and so they decided to add in 24 premium gins to their alcohol offering, together with premium range tonics. 

Experience counts!

Experience as a publican is clearly crucial in helping you develop a business model that can become as big as you want it to be.  It enables you to spot opportunities that other people might overlook such as pub locations that are set to become desirable destinations in future, or drinking trends that will appeal to a wide audience.  By being able to spot these opportunities, it can lead to significant long-term profits. 

As with any business, running a pub successfully depends on the effort you put into it.  The difference is that possessing experience behind the bar, and running pubs gives you a greater chance of experiencing higher levels of success.  Experience definitely counts!

If you have been out of the pub trade for a while and would like to use your experience again, or perhaps you already have a pub and are ready for a new challenge – get in touch with our team.