The LVA’s new Chairman is fairly steeped in the licensed trade. David Madigan’s grandfather James set up shop in Dublin’s North Earl Street back in 1921, going on to become LVA Chairman himself as did his brother Edward.
David has worked in pubs since he was a child and having trained as a Chartered Accountant with Price Waterhouse, he hopes to bring some of that skill-set to the task of Chairman.
“The pub trade has had a number of issues come against it over the last number of years whether the abolition of the Groceries Order, the lowering of the drink-driving limits or the smoking ban – all have had a cultural effect on people and the way they treat the pub,” he believes.
“But publicans have been very resilient in the past and will be in the future,” he assures me.
Extending into social media
Likewise the traditional resilience of publicans must now extend into the new era of social media.
“If you go to what we’re trying to do as a trade, the Dublin Does Fridays initiative was to get into that digital space and communicate with people – especially the younger generation – in a medium that they want to communicate in.
“It’s no good trying to communicate with this generation in the traditional media space where we might be the most comfortable.
“Facebook and Twitter are here to stay and we have to enter that space.”
The second phase of Dublin Does Fridays takes place this Autumn.
“We’ve got significant funding from our main suppliers and we hope to re-engage with the consumer through it. The first phase was dipping our toe in the water.”
Today’s licensed trade functions in an environment where off-sales now command 60 per cent of the market.
“We must re-engage with the consumer and give them a reason for coming to the pub whether that’s putting an emphasis on our food as a gastropub or as an event-driven pub with football or music, we have to make the pub more relevant to our customers.”
He sees Facebook as a means of communicating with the customer, not merely posting up offers.
“But the publican needs to know what kind of pub he has first,” he warns, “Is it a sporting pub or an event-driven pub? Are people going to create their own events within that space so that others will be attracted in too?”
Over the next few months the Association intends running a number of educational seminars for its members.
“Areas we’ll be looking at in the Autumn include improving our food offering: we’ll be bringing people on board about how to buy better, improve margins, how to better present your food and the trends happening worldwide.
“We’ll also be dealing with issues of finance and how we’ll deal with our banks too,” he promises, “The goal for us as an organisation is to be in a stronger place and ready to benefit when this recession finishes.
“We must engage and will be engaging with Government over the coming weeks,” he adds.
Engaging the LVA
A joint VFI/LVA delegation has met the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to ensure that everyone’s playing on a level playing pitch in regard to the Groceries Order for one thing.
“After all, we create six times more employment than an off-licence and we should be viewed as an asset to this city,” believes David, referencing the Lonely Planet Guide’s putting pubs as the country’s Number One tourist attraction.
“We’re offering something that the tourist really appreciates.”
In the meantime the new LVA Chairman has been busy going out to the Dublin regions in a series of area meetings, listening to members, taking their issues on board and responding to them.
If there’s a common thread apart from local issues, he says, it’s the decline in sales.
In this, long- and the short-term priorities find themselves very much aligned at the moment.
“We have to continue to be innovative and this is where bringing in draught Extra Cold or draught Mojitos or craft beers plays its part, we just have to keep on innovating. We’re the oldest trade association in the country and we’ve good structures in place. We hope that we can build on those and on the excellent working relationship we have with our suppliers to maintain stability in the on-trade.”
The Dublin Does Fridays promotion forms part of that innovative/pioneering spirit.
“We met all our KPIs” he points out, “and that results from our three-pronged approach: radio advertising (which has always been strong and well-received), outdoor advertising (which we think was a very strong campaign) and of course, our first foray into the digital media space has gone well for us. You can see the brands are moving in there – this is where our customers are communicating.”
He applauds Minister Leo Varadkar for prolonging the nine per cent VAT rate.
“It gives us a bit of breathing space,” he says, “And the Gathering initiative will be key for 2013 – it will be up to each publican to try to capture as much as possible from that tourism initiative.
“All I ask from Government is that the licensed trade can operate from a level playing pitch against the large multiples.”
And he believes that the Government does realise it has a role to play whether that be a social role, an economic one or a tourist role.
The LVA is also examining the banking crisis.
“The lack of capital means there’s no turnover of pubs taking place as there’s no funding available so young publicans cannot get into the market and the receivers appointed to the hotels and pubs are having an adverse effect on the entire market.”
David has particular sympathy for the good hotel operator who can be surrounded by a number of NAMA competitors.
“You can take it that the industry has lost 30 per cent of its turnover in the past three to five years…. Nevertheless I believe that the recession will end at some stage, so we want to make sure we have a vibrant pub trade that can benefit from that in the future.”
Seems like a reasonable enough goal to me.