Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Get your act together

You often hear people complaining that the evil capitalists of Tesco are marching roughshod into local areas and opening new supermarkets that put all the characterful local shops out of business. They even had a riot about it in some hippy part of Bristol. However, Tesco are only going to succeed if people vote with their feet and choose to shop there rather than the other shops. As Xanthe Clay points out here, too often independent shops have had limited opening hours, high prices, dubious hygiene, poor choice and a lack of fresh produce, so it’s hardly surprising that customers have taken their business elsewhere.
Wake up and smell the instore bakery, little guys. We weren’t stolen from you, we left of our own accord. One look at the average mini-mart, and it’s not hard to see why. Given the choice between a crappy corner shop with yellowing broccoli languishing next to tins of spaghetti hoops and a bright, dynamic supermarket with decent quality fresh produce and a choice of pasta, we took the better option.
Much the same can be said of the pub industry, where it’s common to hear licensees bleating about Wetherspoons taking their trade away while not actually putting their own offer under the magnifying glass. Wetherspoons would not have succeeded if so many existing pubs had not been crap. There’s still little doubt that the actual choice and quality of food and drink available in Wetherspoons is streets ahead of the general run of pubs.

There is one significant difference, though. I don’t mind if Tesco is an echoing, soulless barn so long as it’s convenient for me to get to and they have what I want at a reasonable price. But, with a pub, I’m renting time in the place rather than just buying stuff, and I might be prepared to pay a bit more if I can get a comfortable bench seat in a cosy room and a good pint of a local brew rather than a national brand or an unpredictable, random choice of micro-brewery beer.

Realistically, pubs can’t simply compete on price against Wetherspoons, so they need to look carefully at what they can do that is distinctively different and better.


  1. And there will always be a place for both

  2. I've nothing against Wetherspoons in principle and have happily drank in some enjoying good ales. Sadly I don't use any of the local ones as they always seem to be full of gnarled smelly drunks.

    We do have a pub in town (Burslem) called last orders, situated in the old Saggar Makers Bottom Knocker pub. Now that's a proper poundstretcher style establishment, no real ales, Fosters & Creamflow at about £1.50 a pint, I wouldn't cross it's doors. It has humongous black wearing bouncers on the door and it a regular flashpoint for fights too.

    Which does have it's advantages…plenty of cosy rooms and seats not occupied by the drongos…



  3. I've made the comment elsewhere that Wetherspoon's "massive buying power" is a bit of a myth - they have circa 10% of the pubs that Punch have.
    Furthermore, they got to where they are now from a much smaller base - as others have said and is often forgotten - Tim Martin started with one pub (twice).

    He has made a success of his business because he's done right so many of things that other pubs do wrong.

  4. Wetherspoons are certainly doing something right. Opening a new pub in Torbay whilst others close around them.
    I went in many of the ones now closed and boy did they deserve it. Shite service, crap prices.
    With a difference of nearly a quid for a pint other pubs have to up their game and some do with excellent service and a decent place to sit outside for a smoke.
    Its not rocket science looking after a punter who is prepared to pay several times more than supermarket prices for a 'service'.

  5. You make some great points here. I've drank in many a Whetherspoon, particularly on a sunny day when all you want is a beer garden Wetherspoons can be the best bet for city dwellers like me. But I will also happily pay more to drink in better pubs with better beer because they feel right, and I enjoy the time I spend there.

    North bar in Leeds is a perfect example, it is very expensive. More expensive than somewhere like The Euston Tap even, which when you consider that the latter is in London and North bar is in Leeds gives some idea... but that said if i've got a few hours spare and want to kick back with a book or just sit and sip a few choice beers I would choose North Bar. For great beers with friends I prefer Foleys.

    I think your terminology of 'renting time' is extremely apt.

  6. A pub in Todmorden, which various people have tried and failed to make a go of since the smoking ban, is being converted into a Wetherspoons - a complete refurbishment, both inside and out. It will be interesting to see how it does.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval. See here for details of my comment policy.