Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Gradgrind Arms

Regular readers will know that I have often praised the cheap prices, unspoilt character and congenial atmosphere of many Sam Smith’s pubs. However, I have certainly not been blind to the capricious and often high-handed way in which the company is run. This was starkly highlighted by this recent employment tribunal case in which a couple who had run the Roebuck in the centre of Rochdale for many years successfully made a claim against the company for constructive dismissal.

I have heard similar stories of unrealistic targets being set and a total disregard for the realities of the pub business across the bar of more than one Sam Smith’s pub. Reading the above report, it’s hardly surprising that Sam’s are struggling to recruit pub managers, with a number of their pubs currently being shut that on the face of it do not appear to be unviable.

However, it must be said that much of the company’s unique appeal does stem from their pig-headed refusal to follow the fickle winds of fashion in the pub trade. The managers of the Roebuck complained that their inability to offer piped music and TV sport made it harder for them to compete with other pubs, but for many pubgoers the absence of those features is an attraction in itself. And in some locations the formula certainly works. I’ve mentioned before how you will often find the Boar’s Head on Stockport Market Place standing room only at lunchtime on a non-market day, while the Roebuck was reported to be taking nearly £6,000 a week, which is pretty good going.

Could it be the case that, when the notorious Humphrey Smith is finally put out to pasture, Sam’s will end up losing their USP by trying to become more like other pub operators? After all, you once knew exactly what to expect in a Holt’s pub, whereas now it would be very difficult to say what defined them. And the biggest managed pub operator of all doesn’t have music or sports TV either, and is also known for its keen prices.

14 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie8 December 2018 at 21:12

    "the Roebuck was reported to be taking nearly £6,000 a week" - isn't that 400 pints of OBB a day ?

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    1. The Roebuck is one of those that doesn't serve cask OBB, although with that level of sales turnover surely cannot be a problem. I've never been there, but it's right in the centre of Rochdale and something of a local equivalent of the Boar's Head.

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    2. How many pints a week would you guess the Boar's Head sells?

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    3. 864 - because I've been down in the cellar and seen the three full wooden barrels they sell each week. Knowing Humphrey's policies, probably nearer 900. Plus ten different keg beers and ciders, so it wouldn't surprise me if the Boar's Head was turning over in excess of £5,000 per week.

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  2. When Humphrey retires, his son Sam, who has been very involved in running the company over the last few years, takes over. I doubt much will change.

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    1. Hopefully he will be able to strike the right balance between showing a bit more human sympathy and not turning into Tarquin Crudgington.

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    2. Priceless! Unfortunately I get the impression he's already halfway through the transformation. I had a drink with Humphrey a few weeks ago when I bumped into him on his regular rounds and he seemed happy that the company will be in 'safe hands'. He surprised me by admitting he was happy with Sam promoting the company on social media though.

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    3. Good. Hopefully he can bow out with some grace. But it has got to the stage where his attitude, and the bad publicity it generates, is actively damaging the company. The notorious no-swearing policy hasn't helped either. Although, out of earshot of the bar, it is often honoured more in the breach than the observance.

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    4. I don't think he's bowing out with grace .There's talk of his brother Oliver, who owns half the company but in a way that gives Hump the majority vote, and Sam having to try to force him to retire because they're aware of the damage being done. . I hope the days of proud, traditional pubs with their great signage can return.don't think he's bowing out with grace .There's talk of his broths Oliver, who owns half the company but in a way that gives Hump the majority vote, and Sam having to try to force him to retire. I hope the days of proud, traditional pubs with their great signage can return.

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  3. You would like to think the pubs would remain as they are, but there is no room for the ignorant way they seem to treat their staff, one day they will do more than just keep shooting themselves in the foot.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie9 December 2018 at 15:02

      Citra,
      Yes, but from what I've heard Punch and Enterprise have treated their lessees no better.

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    2. Yes Paul, It's not exclusively a Smith's thing a major part of pub ownership is rotten to the core.

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    3. There is a sort of personal, obsessive element to it with Sam's, though.

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    4. The Stafford Mudgie9 December 2018 at 17:17

      Personal, yes, and on reading "Samuel Smith's Brewery and chairman Humphrey Smith, also area manager for Rochdale" I concluded that he's not one for delegating tasks.

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