It’s 2015 already and the weeks are flying by. Although we have not yet been open 3 months, it feels much longer (in a good, settling-into-the-swing-of-things way) but it’s clear we still have plenty to learn and lots more to do.
The holiday season was busy and we’re all set to coast through the doldrums of January and February. Judging by how long it’s been since my last post here, it’s obviously time to fire up the blog again and what better way than by sharing some of the things we’ve learnt so far and our resolutions for making things better in the year ahead.
1. Good customer service is free and makes your prices worth paying. As you may be aware, we are two doors down from a Wetherspoons. Elsewhere in the town centre is a sports bar/nightclub for the 20-somethings, a sports bar/karaoke spot for the 50-somethings, a decent food- and family-orientated real ale pub, plus a new ‘craft beer’ bar run by the same chap who owns the real ale pub. The karaoke spot advertises Carling for £2 a pint and Wetherspoons sells its real ale for the same price on a Monday. We’re not charging Manchester city centre prices, where pubs are now charging a minimum of £4/pint for real ale, but we do sell the most expensive pint on the local high street out here in the Mancunian ‘burbs. Many locals tell us they don’t like to go to the cheaper places. Clearly they are willing to pay more for something different served in more convivial surroundings by people who strive to provide stellar customer service. We are people who know what we’re selling because we’re in direct contact with the brewers, we offer tastings to help customers chose, we provide recommendations, we top up pints without being asked, we keep glasses sparkling, we have a natter with our customers, we welcome dogs…and we even know the names of the dogs. It’s the little things that matter and providing a friendly environment only takes a bit of effort.
2. Sell what your customers want, not what you want. Here we are in the depths of winter yet IPA, cider and Belgian fruit beers still remain our top sellers despite being what I would class as strictly summertime refreshments. I make sure to have a variety of strengths and styles on tap, but after dumping one too many pints I have decided to buy all dark beers like stout, porter or mild by the pin (36 pints, as opposed to the 72 pints in a firkin). I notice we sell more dark beers on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when people are more likely to linger over their pint, but it’s still not enough to justify tapping 72 pints of it at a go. One problem is that brewers rarely charge half as much for a pin, even though the container holds half as much. Also, some brewers need advance notice when a pin is required, but since they take up less space it’s easy for us to have 3-4 pins resting. As for that cranberry & beetroot farmhouse saison which you love but which is gathering dust… Facebook is a great way to get people interested in the different beers you’re getting in, but of course nothing beats talking to your customers 1-2-1 and asking them if they are willing to sample something new. Besides, remind them it’s ‘Tryanuary‘!
3. Respond to your customers. A few weeks ago a ‘craft beer’ place opened around the corner from us which we heard described several times as a ‘Belgian bar.’ When we visited we noticed that yes, they were selling a few of the same American & Continental bottles that we stocked, but that we had three times as many Belgian beers on our shelves (and I’m not even that much of an aficionado of the stuff). We also noticed that their full-colour menus came pre-printed from their distributor, meaning they will have little flexibility or depth to their offering. Yes, they sell Anchor Steam Beer like we do, but we also have Anchor’s IPA, Liberty Ale, Porter and California Lager. Depending what our customers like, we’ll be able to keep changing. The other day two chaps on either side of our bar got chatting about Augustiner from Munich and asked me if I could get some Edelstoff in. We had a case delivered later that week and the first batch was gone in about two days.
4. Make plans for the business to grow. Although it’s your micropub and you can keep it as small and quirky as you like, you might start reconsidering your business approach during these cold nights after the Christmas binge. To coax people into your premises this time of year you might want to start a quiz night, host a meet-the-brewer evening or offer a loyalty card to your customers. Maybe it’s time to expand your offering by selling bottled beer, fine wines, single malt whiskies or e-cigs. Putting on live music or cheese platters are also good ideas, although you need to be aware of any licencing requirements. Or you could use your growing knowledge of beer and connections with local brewers to organise a beer festival, perhaps to aid a local charity.
5. It’s your place, you can do what you like. Well-kept real ale is the sturdy, reliable foundation upon which every micropub must stand, but we have been amazed by how many women visit our premises asking for wine, prosecco and gin (plus the occasional mug of hot water). In keeping with the micropub ethos, we make sure our non-cask products are also made by local independents wherever possible, which means that when customers ask for Coca-Cola they get a ‘local-cola’ instead. We also sell a keg pilsner, but again one that is made locally yet tastes like a Continental beer. We have however refused all requests for mojitos, vodka or ‘proper lager’ like Fosters.
In future posts we’ll review some of the specifics which we’ve alluded to in previous posts, like sorting insurance and bank accounts, but hopefully these ramblings have given you some points to ponder.