The race for space: tackling the post-Christmas trading conundrum
Wednesday 2nd November 2016
For many businesses, the start of a new year marks fresh opportunity and is often the beginning of new campaigns and strategies designed to boost business, but in the leisure and hospitality sector the post-Christmas period is genuinely the quietest part of the entire year.
Every bar, pub and restaurant owner and manager will be aware of the need to prepare for a lull in trading once the busy festive period comes to a close, but rather than taking their foot off the gas, it is a time when the race for space is very much on.
The right approach
Regardless of the marketing approach adopted in the run-up to the Christmas and new year period, venues can generally be assured of decent footfall as revellers catch up with family and friends, businesses celebrate Christmas parties, and everyone sees in the new year.
The challenge is ensuring that the subsequent drop off once wallets are empty and the turkey has been consumed is not so large that it completely erases any gains made over the Christmas period.
Rather than waiting until 2017 to tackle the conundrum of boosting trade in a quiet environment, the best approach is to start planning now, in order to gain a headstart once January 1 rolls around.
In January 2016, an unexpected rise in like-for-like trading was witnessed across the sector, with all companies trading outside of London witnessing an annual uplift of 2.4 per cent in the CGA Peach Business Tracker.
The index, created in conjunction with Coffer Group, RSM and UB, monitors a number of major brands including Mitchells & Butlers, which owns Harvester, Toby, Miller & Carter and All Bar One, and the Casual Dining Group, owner of Café Rouge, Bella Italia, La Tasca and Las Iguanas.
The strong growth confirmed the trend of expansion away from an ever-more expensive London market, with Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, saying the figures showed the “growing maturity of regional business” in recent years.
Fast forward to late 2016 and the industry is hoping for similar post-Christmas success, but every venue and owner needs to be looking away from collaborative sector success and instead thinking about how to stand out from the crowd.
A range of tactics
Traditionally, pubs, bars and particularly restaurants have aimed to entice January patrons by offering discounts on a range of products, and while this has been successful to an extent, it also cuts into profit margins and can even prove to be a false economy when including staff costs and other overheads, which will almost certainly not be subject to discounts.
In order to gain as much tractions as possible, thought needs to go into marketing the business and its products and engaging potential customers who may have had their fill during the festive period.
Social media represents a valuable – and, crucially, free – way of gaining traction that can help to infiltrate potential audiences. Combined with events and promotions that help to offer something different from the traditional Tuesday night pub quiz, venues can help to pull in new visitors in the new year.
Loyalty breeds advocacy
However, it is important to remember existing customers when launching any promotion – regular visitors provide the backbone of many venues’ businesses and in order to drive new football these customers can be harnessed as advocates.
Steps can be taken now to encourage January and February visits by offering loyalty programmes that reward frequent visits – whether this is a free starter, drink or even meal in the new year after a certain number of visits, it can not only help to drive football in 2017, but can even increase visits in the run-up to Christmas by encouraging loyalty.
Every business will be keeping an eye on the ongoing impact of Brexit – particularly the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ – and while uncertainty remains about exactly what effect this may have on wholesale and supply agreements, it is important not to get caught up in the moment and instead concentrate on what will be happening three months from now once the decorations have been put away.