Monday, 29 August 2016

Marginal loss

In Boak & Bailey’s recent discussion about getting casual drinkers back into pubs, the old chestnut inevitably cropped up of “Use it or lose it!”

As I’ve written before, there are two sides to this. It’s certainly true that, through your own personal preferences, you play a small part in making a collective choice as to which businesses succeed and which fail. It’s called voting with your feet. But the idea that, as an individual, you can make much difference is misplaced. As I said, “Quite frankly, I have better things to do than go to pubs I wouldn’t otherwise visit in an almost certainly vain attempt to stop them from closing.” The same is true of bank branches, post offices and local bus services.

But there’s a point that’s being missed here. It’s not so much my or your choices that are affecting the success of businesses, it’s demographic churn. The existing customers may continue going, but if the new entrants to the market aren’t, then the business is going to suffer and probably ultimately fail.

I’ve often heard the view expressed that small changes in taxes or costs won’t make any meaningful difference to people’s behaviour. For those already established in the market, that is probably true, but it’s different for new people. Only a small movement will lead some to make a different choice and, over time, that can be significant. “Increase cost X by 2% - who will notice the difference?” Most won’t, but for some pubs, or other businesses, that will be the difference between success and failure.

I would never fool myself that my own contribution made any difference to the success or failure of any particular pub. Unless on holiday, it’s pretty rare that I actually drink more than about 15 pints in pubs in a week. Neither my wallet nor my liver would stand it. As I said, the average adult in Britain drinks less than two pints of beer in a pub each week. I doubt whether there has been any week since I turned 18 in which I haven’t comfortably exceeded that except when ill.

But actually I probably am spending less in pubs that I did ten years ago, for the specific reason that a combination of TV sports, loud piped music, dim evening lighting and often indifferent beer have made my local pub much less appealing than it once was, and, from what I see, less appealing to other customers as well. I try to make up for it in other ways, but the fact that I can no longer just nip round the corner for a quiet, reliable pint in congenial surroundings does have an impact.

Incidentally, kudos to Boak & Bailey for continuing to raise the big issues that so many other bloggers fight shy of in their pursuit of the latest awesome new beer.

10 comments:

  1. I don't think anyone who says "Use it or lose it" actually expects that one person can save a pub single-handed: it is a collective exhortation. In our local paper, there was an item about a pub which has been closed for well over a year being converted into a supermarket. One person commented that it was hypocritical to whinge about this change of use, as some did, when the last time they had visited was in the 1970s. Fair point.

    Small increases do make a difference: as proved by the beer duty escalator ("They won't notice - it's only 2% per year").

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  2. Not having a congenial pub nearby has made a big difference to my habits just this week. Having just moved I'm missing the pub around the corner at my ols place. While not amazing, it was nice enough and I happily nipped over for a couple of pints a few times a week. Now I'm living on a road with three pubs all of which have permanent big screen sport on at high volume. That, coupled with being stared at by the regulars and an impenetrable wall of arses at the bar of a weekend mean neither of us much feel like popping out for a impromptu pint.

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    1. "an impenetrable wall of arses at the bar of a weekend" - I'm sure you meant that figuratively as well as literally ;-)

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  3. "Use it or lose it" is fine up to a point If it's a decent pub then get in there. If it's a dump, don't. The only pub in my area which has closed was a shithole. I didn't use it and now I've lost it, not that I care. It's a Tesco now and of much more use than when it was a dismal old wanktrap.

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    1. One man's dismal old wanktrap is another man's cosy unspoilt local.

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    2. Very true. However this place had incessant trouble, sold cans of strong cider for a quid a go, nearly lost its license, had to have constant door security and had to shut at 9.00 at night. I've known a few cosy unspoilt locals close and I mourn their passing but this wasn't one of them.

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  4. "Use it or lose it" is how I feel when I read about villagers or CAMRA branch demanding a pub stay open they rarely use, along with "stump up and run it yourself then".

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    1. "Stump up for it yourself" is exactly what I advocated in May's Opening Times column. It's a serious point - you can't expect others to run businesses for your benefit if they don't see them as viable. So, if you want to preserve a pub for community reasons rather than purely as a commercial enterprise, then you will have to pay for it.

      If a community buyout was proposed for my local pub, I would happily stump up a substantial contribution. But I'd be demanding that the music was turned off, the lighting turned up and the TV football banished to the vault. Otherwise, I could just suggest that Sam Smith's buy it ;-)

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  5. 'Use it or lose it' is indeed something of an empty threat. If people aren't using a pub very much, they probably don't like it that much anyway, so what have they got to lose? Somewhere they drive past every day but only pop in two or three times a year? Not a great loss.

    What is far more significant is when you 'use it AND lose it'. This happened to me some years ago - a pub I frequented most days which is probably the only proper local I've ever really had. As an active user, I'm not sure there's anything more I could've done to avoid losing it. The landlord by his own admission made one or two errors of judgement and was perhaps premature in giving up on it, but the regulars in pubs like this are real losers, not the 'use it or lose it' crowd.

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  6. I think beer bloggers see this as too binary, pub goers arent either just casual or stakhanovite (I had to look that up to work out what that meant and Im still not quite sure how it relates to pub going), pub goers are a wide spectrum of people, some might only go out once at christmas, some might go every day or week, but theres a whole bunch of people stuck in the ill defined middle whose pub going is quite variable, maybe they only venture in on special occasions, maybe regular meet ups, maybe with friends, maybe with work colleagues maybe something completely different. they all use the pub differently and expect different things, but the one thing they all expect is for the pub to still be there, and when it closes and its not, they complain about losing something they werent using.

    so without repeat custom,Ill avoid using the word regular,any business will struggle to survive, pubs are businesses ultimately, so the use it or lose it promoted view isnt that just one person can save a pub by themselves, but if everyone thought that way then all pubs would close so clearly some people do make a difference, and if you can convince 1 person to be a repeat customer, then you can convince 2, and if youve got 2 you can get 4 and if youve got 4 youve 8, 8 then 16, 16 then 32 (and yes it is a binary gag) but with 32 repeat customers youve got the start of a business that can probably survive, even if some of those customers only visit at Christmas. and poor pubs,though really its poorly run businesses wont survive because the market, ie repeat custom decides their fate for them.

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