Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The captive market fallacy

If I had a pint for every time I’ve heard someone say “you’d have to be an idiot to fail with that pub, it’s the only one for the best part of a mile in any direction”, then I would be very drunk indeed. But, while it might seem an obvious conclusion to draw, in practice the pub trade just doesn’t work like that, and in fact in recent years isolated pubs in the middle of residential areas, whether council estate or owner-occupied, have often seemed unusually vulnerable to closure.

For example, we have lost the Reddish Vale in Reddish, the Bromale in Bramhall, the Cotton Tree in Withington, the Fallowfield in Fallowfield and the Sylvan Inn in Timperley (illustrated). No doubt you can think of plenty more in and around your local area. Places like Edgeley and Hazel Grove have seen the closure of pubs in the backstreets like the Hollywood, the Gardeners Arms and the Royal Oak, while they continue in business in significant numbers on their main streets. For each individual pub you might say that it wasn’t well run, or didn’t receive any investment, or the area went downhill, or the ethnic mix changed, but across the board there’s a consistent pattern.

I’ve written in the past that coming home from work, having your tea and then going out to the local has never been quite such a universal pattern of pubgoing as often imagined. And, while I make no claim for this poll being scientific, the respondents seemed to favour after-work drinking which doesn’t tend to take place in residential locals. Even if people are going out for a drink later in the evening, they will often favour village and town centres where there is a choice of venues and a bit of a buzz. How many of the drinkers in the Crown and the Magnet in Stockport will have passed numerous pubs nearer to their houses to get there? All the cluster of new bars in Chorlton are on the main shopping streets, not tucked away in isolation in backwoods shopping parades.

Plenty of people will still see ease of access as a good reason for visiting a pub, but it has to have something else going for it as well. If your local pub actually is good, then why not? But if the only reason you’re going there is because it’s on your doorstep, then it’s already lost the battle. In some cases, pubs of this type that are situated on main roads have been able to survive by adding a substantial food trade to their mix, but that doesn’t work for all and is very much dependent on the area. But it should not be underestimated how much sheer visibility adds to a pub’s prospects – the simple act of regularly passing it in a car, or on a bus, makes it much more likely you will consider visiting it on another occasion.


  1. There is still room for the friendly community pub, but it requires a skilled, committed and engaged landlord to put on or host events 7 nights a week to get people through the doors.

  2. My village has one pub, it keeps failing. New owners arrive, put the prices down to a reasonable price for two months, gets well supported by locals then hike them back up again. Trade slumps, pub fails again.
    Why cant they get it in their thick heads that very few people will pay 50p+ extra for a pint EVEN though its the only one for miles.

  3. Village pubs are a rather different issue as in most cases they also need to attract some trade from outside the village. What I am referring to is pubs with so many houses within walking distance that if even 5% of local residents were regular customers they would thrive.

  4. A good piece...A fantastic gaffer used to run a pub called The Highwood in Olton and he used to have some kind of activity/funtion/quiz etc going on every day. Hard working funny bloke and he called it quits last year as said it is just getting too hard to get people in and make a' still going but I wonder hwo long for


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