Neil once told us that he was staying in Leeds ahead of a CPI lecture, practising his lines and hoping beyond hope that everyone would like him that day, and wandered past a Marston's pub at 8.10 in the morning on his way to the venue. In a window seat was an unshaven man in his 70s nursing a pint and reading the Sun. It was a little sad; imagine reading the Sun, with all of its salacious paucity of truth and cartoon news at any time of day.
Last week we reported from the NTI newsroom that Greene King had been forced to shed a load of staff as a result of the restric... blah, blah, blah and today (Thursday 15 October) it is the turn of Marston's, who are romantically based in the Shobnall Road in Burton-on-Trent. It is a cracking business, owning 1,400 pubs, restaurants, cocktail bars and hotels throughout the UK, but its sales have slumped by a third in the last year. Despite improving over the summer the latest curbs on trading have put 14 different varieties of urine into the nuts on the bar counter, and this was an announcement waiting to happen.
Marston's is a British institution, claiming 'unparalleled category expertise' (we're not sure either, but good for them) and a vast range of local, national, craft and world beers (including Hobgoblin and Wainwright (The Golden Beer)). They had just printed a load of new signs, heralding their return after lockdown, stating boldly 'It's Great To Be Back', away from which 2,150 pub-based employees could be photographed walking as the group announced they would not be brought back from furlough. Marston’s has 13,500 employees and a spokesperson said that the effect of the new three-tier lockdown system had been “to undermine consumer confidence and create uncertainty”. We all watch the news and sympathise, but what also undermines consumer confidence is to be crammed into a pub with a sticky carpet and someone from Liverpool coughing over you and into your Golden Beer.
There are some numbers to attach to the above, for those who want to turn over a beer-mat and jot them down: in a year-end trading update, Martson's said that group sales had fallen by 30 per cent to £821 million, with pub sales down 34 per cent to £515 million after the lockdown closures. Its beer business suffered a 22 per cent fall in revenues to £306 million, although sales through the on-trade, pubs and restaurants, were up 23 per cent. However, since pubs had been allowed to reopen on July 4, managed and franchised like-for-like sales had averaged 90 per cent of last year’s level, representing an outperformance of about 7 per cent relative to the wider pubs' sector.
There is definitely a business for many to return to once Astra-Zeneca and Moderna Therapeitics get their act together, but with a 'no meeting people in closed spaces' tier two restriction having just been announced in London, it's going to be a while.