Reflections of a pub landlord: past, present and future

After 48 years in the pub trade, Tom Kilroy – AKA The Pub Landlord Advisor – has called time on a distinguished career.

With his wife Mary, Tom has run successful pubs and bars spanning the UK and Ireland. He started his pub career in 1968 when he managed The Dell a pub built by his father in his hometown of Athlone.

Since then Tom and Mary have run sports pubs, community pubs and even floating pubs, which have all guaranteed a warm welcome to visitors.

In this special blog post, Tom reflects on his time in the industry and looks at:

How times have changed

Customers expect greater choice

The first pub I owned was called Durkin’s Bar in County Galway. We served a Smithwicks keg bitter, Harp Lager and, of course, Guinness. But, these days consumers expect much greater choice.

Back then you had three or four basics but today there is a huge range of drinks available which you didn’t have before.

Tom’s Tip #1: Keep abreast of trends and changing consumer demand to make a success of running a pub.

Pub culture has changed massively

Pub landlord Tom with England fans

Pub landlord Tom watching rugby with England supporters at the Cricketers.

 

 

There have been obvious changes to pub culture, such as the smoking ban and the rise of home drinking. But pubs also used to be more dependent on regulars and there was a greater degree of trust between the publican and his locals.

At that time you might give regulars credit and they’d pay at the end of the week or month depending on when they got paid. You might get 10 to 12 customers like that.

That certainly doesn’t happen any more!

Another major change relates to drink-driving law. A pub’s car park used to be full of customers – and they’d all be drinking at the bar! It wasn’t illegal back then.

However, any responsible pub landlord would monitor the situation and tell people when they’d had enough.

Tom’s Tip #2: Make sure all your customers get a warm welcome and a great service – whether they are one-off visitors or regulars. That’s always been important, but now even more so with social media and TripAdvisor.

It’s no longer a guaranteed lifelong career

Many industries promised lifelong careers when I first started out, and the same was true of pubs.

It would often be the case that the landlord’s son would take over a pub and they’d expect to be running it for the rest of their life.

Today, there often seems to be a constant ebb and flow as pub owners come and go and trends shift this way and that.

A new bar often re-opens with someone who has a new idea that’s currently in-vogue. And that might last only two or three years before it changes again. But ultimately it’s reputation that is the core element of running a successful pub.

Tom’s Tip #3: Maintaining a good reputation depends on providing a consistently high level of service. That means employing bar staff with the appropriate people skills (and service skills), perfectly maintained beverages and consistently good food.


State of the industry  

Pub landlord Tom and Mary at Mulligans

While the pub industry faces challenges, I believe that a successful pub career is still possible and that the industry will live on.

When I first started I thought the trade would be washed up by the mid-70s but it always seems to right itself. There comes a time when people get fed up of being at home and watching the telly, or being stuck in front of the computer.

And I still recommend the trade because you can still make a profitable business.

A good example is the success of Ken Buckley who launched Warrington-based Bravo Inns in 2007. It now has 36 wet-led community pubs to its name – at a time when people are saying the wet-led pub is dead!

He remained a believer that wet-led community pubs still had a place – and he’s been proved right.

Keeping abreast of consumer demand and evolving trends, is also key. As real ale came back in fashion, it was important to provide for that market. The same with the related rise in demand for craft lager. Gin is another tipple which in recent years has returned to the fore.

Tom’s Tip #4: If you have the right team, with the right landlord, in the right pub, with the right kind of activities; the pub will thrive. By creating the right atmosphere people will want to leave their house to visit you.


Tips for running a pub today

Running a pub: Tom KilroyDespite the scope of opportunity, there are also pitfalls awaiting anyone who wants to run a pub today. One of the biggest issues, is knowing how to invest in the right opportunity.

There are a few factors:

  • Getting the right advice

  • Choosing the right pub company or brewery firm

  • Knowing what to invest

Getting the right advice

Before buying a pub, expert professional help is key. Whether you’re renting, leasing or buying a property; always get professional independent advice. Don’t sign any contracts without a solicitor’s expert help.

Even though it costs you short-term, in the long run it’s cheap. The same goes for accountancy services. Employ an accountant to check out the figures a brewery, pub company or agent has given you. Those professional costs are going to pay off in the long run.

If you’re not prepared to pay for due diligence before signing a pub agreement, then you’re seriously reducing your chances of running a successful pub.

Tom’s Tip #5: It’s worth reiterating… get an independent solicitor to check the contract before signing.

Choosing the right pub company or brewery firm

There are horror stories a-plenty about the ruthless practices of pubcos and brewery firms. However, there are ways of navigating this minefield before you commit to running a pub.

The truth is, there are good pubcos and bad pubcos – and the same goes for brewery firms. When you’re taking on a tenancy or leasehold, you need the greatest amount of pubco support you can get.

You want access to a repairs desk so that no matter what goes wrong – whether it’s a toilet that doesn’t flush or electrics that fail – you can phone through to the repairs desk and they’ll send somebody to sort it out. And foot the bill themselves!

A simple repair to something like a tap can cost you £100 or even more.

Tom’s Tip #6: A vital question to ask the pubco or brewery firm is: “Will you carry out the repairs to the premises?” If they say: “That will be down to you”, that’s bad news.

What should I invest?

In terms of finance, you’ll need money saved up to buy the stock and for a back-up reservoir. The latter is important, because that back-up pool will enable you to weather a dip in takings or to cover any unexpected extra costs which may arise.

Don’t take the pubcos or estate agents prices at face value. Professional independent advice will help identify whether a rent is too high or a deposit too large. You need a sceptical eye and an enquiring mind.

A cheaper property is not necessarily the best value – but also vice-versa as some properties can be overpriced.

Tom’s Tip #7: Make sure you’ve got enough money saved up for those rainy days.


Farewell to Bedford, welcome to The Academy

In December Tom and Mary closed the doors at their final pub the Cricketers in Bedford and have returned to Athlone in Ireland.

Tom has used his ‘downtime’ to establish The Pub Landlord Advisor Academy which gives step-by-step guidance on how to find and finance a pub – and avoid the many perils that lay ahead for those who want to run a pub for the first time.

Click here to find out how you can get involved with The Pub Landlord Advisor Academy.

 

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