5 ways to compete with chain pubs

Independent pubs across the country are under threat. The twin pressures of rising costs and expanding chains have meant that independent publicans face a uniquely difficult situation.

Just last week pubco Greene King announced that it would be continuing its expansion across London, and a similar story is being played elsewhere in the UK.

This dramatic expansion on the part of chain pubs is meaning that independent alternatives are being squeezed out and publicans are struggling to compete.

So what do you do if a chain pub opens over the road, or even on the other side of town? The sheer buying power of the chains means that you are unlikely to be able to compete on price. But, despite the difficult economic situation, many Brits are willing to turn their back on the chains – and with some creative thinking you can turn your independence to your advantage.

1. Become a community hub

Many of the country’s best-loved pubs are not just pubs – they are hubs to which the community is drawn, and around which people congregate.

Of course, great beer (and possibly food) will still be at the heart of every pub’s offering. But if you want to compete with a big chain that is likely to be able to shift these products at cheaper prices, you need to think of ways to boost loyalty.

Consider inviting local groups to have their meetings in your pub. You could offer a deal on drinks or food. Or, if you are feeling more adventurous, why not try ideas like a swap library, where visitors could bring their old books and exchange them for others? The general principle is that if it encourages members of the community to engage with your business, it is a good thing.

2. Renegotiate with suppliers

If you want to cut your prices, it is highly likely that you will need to renegotiate your terms with suppliers.

Many businesses simply presume that the price they are offered by a supplier is the price that they must accept. But it is important to understand that negotiation is a key part of any management strategy – particularly if you are trying to remain competitive. Go back to your suppliers and ask them what sort of deal they could offer. Remember that you will have more negotiating power if you agree to buy larger amounts in one go.

If they are unwilling to budge, make sure that you investigate other potential suppliers. It is often possible to significantly reduce costs by moving suppliers – and you can pass these savings on to customers.

3. Run events

Many pubs run events or themed nights to great effect. As well as increasing footfall, a well thought out programme of events can help to raise awareness of your pub and cement its position at the heart of the community.

There are, of course, many old favourites that have been tried and tested in pubs across the country. The pub quiz, for example, can be very successful when done well. But it pays to be adventurous. What sorts of events could you run that no other pub in the area is hosting? What sort of events would punters not immediately associate with a pub? By thinking slightly ‘outside the box’ you can help to build your all-important identity, and keep punters coming back.

4. Consider coffee

Brits are continuing to fall further in love with coffee. As a recent Simply Business survey showed, coffee shops are becoming increasingly popular - and, with that, the population are becoming ever pickier about what they drink.

You can make the coffee craze work for you. Consider offering good coffee and tea, along with some newspapers and comfy chairs, in order to increase your daytime footfall. You might also consider offering free wi-fi for those who want to get some work done.

Remember, though, that good coffee machines can be expensive, and good baristas need training. You should make sure that you understand the costs before you begin.

5. Underline your independence

Finally, despite the rampant expansion of chains not just in the hospitality industry but in virtually every consumer-facing business, there is a growing sense of unease about the loss of character in High Streets across the country. Many people would prefer to patronise independent businesses if they can – and some are prepared to pay a bit more in order to do that.

As such, you should consider ways that you can highlight your independence in contrast with the chains. This could be as simple as an a-board outside your premises explaining that you remain under independent ownership, or it could form part of a broader marketing strategy. Either way, by making sure your customers know yours is an independent business, you stand a better chance of ensuring that they turn their back on the chain.

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