Bucking the trend in the Irish pub market

Emmet Lynch of Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore spoke to LVA members at a Heineken Ireland seminar late last year on the subject of ‘Bucking the trend in the Irish Pub Market’. His approach was upbeat and a tonic to ears tired of hearing repeated bad news. This is what he had to say…

When one brews it right down to the essentials I’m not alone in wondering ‘how do we sell more beer to the Irish pub market?’.
Let me tell you some of the things we’ve tried to increase our beer sales in Hugh Lynch’s.
Beer accounts for about 67 per cent of our on Sales. Draught comprises about 50 per cent of our sales and bottled beer about 17 per cent.

My father began in the bar trade in Dublin in 1955 in Hughes in Chancery Street, working for Martin Hughes. Forty years ago he established Lynch’s in Tullamore.

When I told him I was coming home from a career as a banker in London to run the pub he wondered what he had spent his money sending me to university for! You’re probably asking yourselves which one of us was right… Was it a case of out of the pan of banking and into the fire of the pub game?

Let’s just remind ourselves of what’s happening in our business at the moment. Customers are drinking at home and we face stiff competition from supermarkets selling very cheap alcohol so we must make our offering top quality. Social drinking now demands a special event. I remember when customers automatically visited the pub a few times a week anyway; now, often, they only visit for a 40th birthday, a fancy dress party or another special event.

This is the type of poster that would have worked perfectly in attracting customers to our pub 15 years ago. But today we must embrace new media to reach our customers. I will give examples of how we have tried to use this. Today we’re in competition with ‘any alternative outlet for discretionary income’.

Our customers expect us to have the beer range they want. It’s important to ensure the product dispensed is perfect. Temperature, glassware and glassware systems in the pub as well as equipment, fridge temperatures and backup fridges for busy nights are all important to help meet customer expectation.

Of all the trends, discounting is the one I have decided not to follow because I believe it is better to increase value rather than decrease the price. Once we decrease prices, it is very hard to get them back up again.
There are many variables in the pub trade that we cannot control, however the key areas we do have control over are our staff, our premises and how we interact with our customers.

The old rules are still key – clean toilets, tidy bar, friendly and polite service. The only people who can deliver this are our staff. They’re so important to the success of any bar. Team meetings are essential to secure buy-in from our employees. If the idea comes from them or even if they think the idea came from them, the chance of that idea succeeding increases as they embrace it with more enthusiasm. It’s important to get their involvement/ownership of projects and ideas and to offer incentives.

For 4th July we ran an event called ‘Hughie’s Hoedown’. I asked the staff to get dressed-up for the occasion and offered a cash prize. The effort they all went to was amazing.

This small incentive helped create a unique atmosphere as they all looked good — but more importantly were happy and enthusiastic to be working in the bar. Happy and enthusiastic staff led to a positive atmosphere which led to customers staying that bit longer and spending more.

Lynch’s was known as an “old man’s pub” in Tullamore. In 2008 we carried out a refurbishment, adding a new bar, function room with bar and smoking areas. The aim was to add younger (and female!) customers to a core business of older male customers. At the time the budget did not stretch to refurbishing the ‘Old Man’s’ section and it was the best thing that ever happened. That bar is flourishing today and many of our older customers really enjoy giving out about all of the young people and the noise — but at the same time I’ve noticed them coming in more regularly than they ever did before.

We created a venue upstairs. Every Friday and Saturday night it is hired for private parties. We regularly use it for paid-in gigs as it lends itself to applying a cover charge. We happily give it to community groups early in the week Free Of Charge. I feel it makes us a centre and helps overall trade.

By the beginning of 2010 our 1,000 sq ft off-licence had declined in turnover from where it was. In October we completed a refurbishment, turning this space into a disco bar. We also rebuilt a small hatch off-licence. The hatch is doing ok and has enabled us to stay in the off-sales business albeit in a smaller capacity. We are attracting about 120 people two nights every weekend in the new space which is now operating on the higher bar margins.

Walt Disney said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”. We must strive to give our customers a reason to visit our pubs. It is important to build relationships with our customers and we must consider new media and the way we reach our customer. It’s also important to establish relationships with business partners, staff and community groups and to make use of all available media through posters, YouTube, Facebook and advertising.

In the past year or so we have introduced the idea of creating themed weekends. We had a ‘Captain Morgan Mojito’ weekend, for example, where we hired some Salsa dancers and promoted the cocktail.

We ran a ‘Gordons Gin Moustach Party’ where we offered punters a stick-on moustache or painted one on. The staff got involved too. Customers could win an i-Pod Nano by pinning the moustache on a giant-sized Willie O’Dea. And every one had a good night.

In conjunction with Barry & Fitzwilliam we ran a ‘Jägermeister Aprés Ski Weekend’ which involved a Nintendo Wii ski game, safety goggles made to look like ski-masks and some Jägermeister merchandise.

Community groups are key to our trade. This year we invited teams from around Ireland to compete in the ‘Coors Light Hugh Lynch’s All Ireland Tug Of War Cup’, attracting a group of particularly good pint drinkers. We also sponsored the Tag Rugby in Tullamore with Bud Light as it had a great social side associated with it due to the fact that it is played by both sexes.

We have worked with a local cancer charity for the last number of years running live pig-racing on the street outside the pub. In 2009 Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s pig ‘Peppa Pig’ won the first race in style, gaining some national press for the pig and the pub.
As publicans we walk through our pubs and say hello to customers, we ask them how a family member is keeping, we might congratulate them on a recent success. We do this to make our customers feel part of our pubs. I try to do this on Facebook as well.

A couple recently had a new baby and put pictures of their child on Facebook. Hugh Lynch’s ‘liked’ the picture. I noticed that the father of the baby came into our pub to celebrate the birth; he felt an association with our bar through Facebook and I’m hoping to get the Christening upstairs when it comes around!

Hugh and Emmet Lynch.

Hugh and Emmet Lynch.

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