|Two Robinson's pubs next|
door to each other
It’s an interesting question for any pub operator to what extent their pubs compete with each other. Clearly, for dining pubs, the distance will be greater as customers will be more willing to drive to them. I believe Greene King have a formula to work out the required distance between Hungry Horses so that they won’t cannibalise each other’s trade. For wet-led pubs in urban areas, it will probably be well under a mile.
But many operators have collections of pubs much closer to each other. Some of our remaining traditional brewers have a strong concentration of pubs in their home town, such as Jennings in Cockermouth, Adnams in Southwold and Palmers in Bridport. As long as it doesn’t extend too far, I’d say that’s a feature of the British brewing scene that we should cherish. It’s always good to drink a beer on its home territory.
Our local brewer, Robinsons, have never had a dominant position in central Stockport, but have ended up controlling the vast majority of pubs in some outlying areas. In Hazel Grove their position has been eroded by closures and the opening of a Wetherspoons, but they still control all five “proper” pubs in the centre of Marple, although there are a couple of micropubs in the process of opening up.
From a competition point of view, that’s less than ideal, but it doesn’t necessarily involve a bland uniformity. On the CAMRA forum, one poster suggested that, given the relative size of their estates, Wetherspoon’s were much less dominant than Punch or Enterprise, but that failed to recognise the fact that every Wetherspoons pub provides essentially the same offer. Their recent programme of closing branches close to another suggests they have recognised the risk of cannibalising sales. On the other hand, nearby Punch pubs may be very different from each other in terms of beer and food offer and general ambiance.
If you have a concentration of pubs in a particular area, the key to success is to differentiate them from each other. One may be a vaguely trendy “craft” bar, another a live music venue, another a codgers’ drinking shop, another a family dining outlet. There may be a lack of choice in terms of beer, but that really isn’t something that bothers most pub customers, and they still have a wide choice of types of pub. There are still pairs of Robinsons’ pubs next door to each other, such as the Grapes and Three Tunnes in Hazel Grove (pictured), but the brewery have in recent years tried to differentiate their pubs into various “themes”. Over time, the customers often end up determining the character of each pub anyway without any deliberate influence from the owners.
And, if you’re Marston’s, or any other large pub operator, you need to ensure that any of your pubs that are in close promixity do not compete directly with each other with a very similar offer. If they do, and you give one favourable treatment over another, then you shouldn’t be surprised if your licensees cry foul.