Hamish Champ City and Business Editor of “The Publican”
On the problems facing pubs
Hamish Champ: Pubs have been going through what some have described as the perfect storm. First of all, there was the smoking ban which we’ve now had for the best part of a year and a half in England, longer elsewhere in the UK. There is the looming recession. Times have been tough for a while. There's a lot of regulations, there’s a lot of red tape, and rents still have to be paid and products still have to be bought out of income that the pub generates. It’s not a great time to run a pub but pubs will - the good pubs and pubs that are run properly and run well have a chance of surviving and thriving when we come out of this particular cycle.
On pub companies being too big and too greedy
Interviewer: But do you think - have Pub Companies got too big and too greedy?
Hamish Champ: Pubcos have been accused of being too big and too greedy by a lot of people who run their pubs. There are those who say that pubcos have simply done two things. They’ve bought up a lot of pub stock, and they’ve run them, and they’ve gone on to rip the heart out of the industry. There are those who say they offer an opportunity for people to run pubs at an entry level which is more suitable for their own financial circumstances. So you kind of pays your money and you takes your choice on that one.
On help from Pub Companies for licensees
Hamish Champ: Licensees will try and get help from wherever they can, and the first port of call will be their landlord. In the case of a pubco they’ll approach him. If they’re a Punch lessee, they will presumably approach their area manager and ask for assistance, well ask for a meeting and then ask for assistance. Whether that support is forthcoming will depend on the circumstances of the trouble that they’re in and how the pubco thinks it can help. They are offering help. They are telling us that they are offering their lessees help. Some are offering rent concessions. Others are offering discounts on beer, discounts on rent, rent holidays. But again we are hearing from people who say that this is not particularly forthcoming and assistance needs to be increased.
On the need for the public to support pubs
Hamish Champ: Some pubs inevitable go under because they don’t have either the support that they require from their pubcos or the support from their local communities. We often hear of people in the local village saying it’s dreadful that the Royal Oak is closing. And then we’ll ask them well how many times do you go to the Royal Oak every year? Oh we go at Christmas. Communities need to support their pub. If they want to see their pub survive, they need to patronise them. There's no point moaning about your local pub closing if you don’t visit it. Similarly there has to be a level of support across the board in order to make sure that these pubs remain as a going concern.
On what makes a good publican
Interviewer: So what kind of pub landlords does we need now?
Hamish Champ: We need savvy business people running pubs in this country. People who are passionate about what they do, who are mindful of what their customers want. You know, they have to be characters, they have to be customer friendly, they have to have good interpersonal skills, and most do. And there's no question that if you are a personable individual with business sense and a desire to serve your local community with food and drink then, you know, you’ve got a good shot.
On how pubs survive
Interviewer: So what do you see that the pubs in this country have to do to survive or to prosper?
Hamish Champ: I think surviving rather than prospering at the moment is the name of the game. I think a lot of companies big and small will be looking to keep their turnovers flat, level. I think, you know, if you keep your turnover flat in the next twelve, eighteen months you’ll be doing a good job because a lot of people are seeing sales declining and that's not good. I think at the moment what do you need, you need, you need to batten down the hatches, you need to keep an eye on your costs, you need to keep on the front foot in terms of providing customers with what they want in a convivial environment. It sounds like a cliché and it is but it’s still true.
On the medium-term future for pubs
Interviewer: So what do you think is the medium term future for pubs?
Hamish Champ: Over the next few years, I think pubs will survive. There may be fewer of them, but I can’t see pubs going away. We’ve had cycles like this before, perhaps not as severe as this one, but pubs that offer what the customers want in situations and circumstances that are suitable to the local market will survive. There will be fewer pubs, there's no question about that. Back street wet-lead boozers that focus more on drink sales than they do on a mix of drink and food will suffer.
This video extra has been produced for Last orders: calling time on pubs which will be broadcast on Friday 12th December at 19:00 on BBC TWO.