Saturday, 8 September 2012

New beer in old bottles

Robinson’s brewery in Stockport have recently been reviewing their tied estate and selling off a number of pubs that they don’t see as viable in the long term. To their credit, they don’t seem to have imposed restrictive covenants on these, and a number are now reopening as free houses.

The latest issue of the local CAMRA magazine Opening Times reports that the formerly run-down and seedy Railway in Romiley has reopened as “Platform 1”, saying that:

The new-look pub is far removed from its previous incarnation, comfortably furnished in a stylish ‘modern traditional’ look and with a major food operation... On the beer front it’s good news across the board. Six cask beers are sold, with house regular ‘Platform 1 Cask Ale’ alongside five guest beers – two from micro brewers and the others from regional or national concerns.
The former Flying Dutchman on Higher Hillgate in Stockport (pictured) is to reopen as “The Fairway”, while the Board in Whaley Bridge is to become “The Drum and Monkey”.

I have asked the question in the past as to what extent how well pubs are run affects the overall demand in the market – a post that surprisingly got no responses. My conclusion was “not very much” but, on the other hand, within a specific area a pub that is run significantly better and/or differently can shift a lot of trade from its competitors. It’s also the case that in places like Romiley and Whaley Bridge (although less so on Hillgate) there is something of a closed micro-market, where relatively little trade comes in from outside, and many local pubgoers are in effect only going to choose between the six or eight pubs in their own village-cum-town.

I wish all of these new ventures well, but only time will tell whether they can attract new customers and achieve a level of success that they didn’t enjoy under Robinson’s ownership, or whether their previous failure was basically due to a combination of location and customer base that no new formula can do much to change.

It’s notoriously difficult to put your finger on what makes a pub work in terms of the combination of location, offer and value for money. If it was simply a case of tarting the place up a bit, putting a few different cask beers on the bar and watching the customers flood in, everybody would be doing it, but clearly they’re not. For example, nobody has yet bitten at the Grapes in Edgeley despite it being in a very densely-populated area.

8 comments:

  1. I have fond memories of Romiley, having lived there for a short while from September '77 to March '78, prior to moving back down south. I have an aunt who still lives in the town, although it is quite a few years since I last saw her.

    I used to drink in the Friendship (another Robinson's pub) back then. It was a cosy and comfortable pub, that lived up to its name. I hope it is still open. I probably only set foot in the Railway a couple of times; it was seedy and run down 35 years ago!

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  2. must have missed the previous post on the subject of well run pubs ... I think there probably is a correlation between well run pubs and demand for pubs in the market ... especially within micro-markets ... you're right about well run pubs being able to "shift a lot of trade from its competitors" ... without reaching for the butter to grease my head through the door ... pubs I have run have been considered "well run" and have often attracted not only their own customer base, but also 'poached' customers from other local hostelries.

    In terms of the industry I'm not sure whether demand is affected by competency as much as, say, pricing for consumers. Reputationally for those entering the trade perhaps perceived competency of the industry may have an effect ... although I would have thought that as all those entering would at least like to think they will run their respective pubs well over-rides this.

    Good luck to Platform 1, though, as you have said time will tell if being a freehouse is more successful than being a tied tenancy... I suspect it will be.

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  3. I agree that Robinsons are to be congratulated by their attitude to convenants. Another ex Robinosn pub that is now a good real ale venue is The Printers Arms in Thornsett, New Mills. I visited both and intend to return although I need dto travel to reach either.

    The transformation of Platform One is quite dramatic from yet another run down Robbie's pub with "gentlemen of leisure" guarding the front door to a clean and well decorated interior with 5 well kept real ales at good prices and an excellent food offering. Importantly it is very female friendly with various ages enjoying a drink in groups on the night we called.I would envisage that many of the clientele would not normally frequent other traditional Robisons venues in Romiley or anywhere else. I believe that, happily, this can be the future and we will all benefit. The brewers need to set their sights higher when recruiting tenats and managers.

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  4. Martin, Cambridge9 September 2012 at 18:04

    I see why folk from Stockport or Oldham would take the train into Picadilly (or Chorlton) in the evening to visit pubs and restaurants but it's hard to see why people from Cheadle or Hazel Grove will travel into greater Stockport to visit an individual good pub (CAMRA trips and Beer Guide tickers apart).

    As you've noted before, a certain critical mass of good pubs is needed, and that will inevitable draw custom away from the local areas.

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  5. NB How do you get to "Opening Times"on the web now - link is broken

    Thanks

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  6. Unfortunately, John Tune, who was responsible for the desktop publishing for Opening Times, died in June of this year. After a month's gap, publication of the magazine restarted in August, but the domain name was registered to John personally and this hasn't yet been unravelled.

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  7. Without wishing to sound dull, the ultimate answer is that it depends on the market structure. If the market is there for a certain type of pub, then that type of pub will succeed where others have failed.

    A good lively pub in the suburbs is often a big enough draw to dissuade a large enough set not to bother making the trip into the city centre.

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  8. There's no reason whatsoever why a traditional pub of character, full of dark wood and gleaming brass, can't be clean, friendly and welcoming. But, all too often, "female friendly" is interpreted as a bland, pastel-shaded, sofa-infested, knocked through abomination.

    I'm sure the words "oh, what a lovely old pub" have occasionally passed female lips.

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