Monday, November 7, 2011

Retreating into a niche

Stockport town centre, depending on how you define it, currently has about 30 pubs open and trading. There are four or five standing closed and boarded and realistically unlikely to open as pubs, and a further ten or so that have closed their doors forever over the past ten or fifteen years and been demolished or converted to alternative use. A pattern that is fairly typical of large towns up and down the country.

For various reasons, Stockport isn’t renowned for its lively night-life and, being honest, although a few do well, many of those 30 are existing on very thin pickings. Two that are thriving, though, are the well-known specialist beer pubs, the Crown and the Magnet, which are only about four hundred yards apart near the bus station. Indeed, to get to either from the bus station you have to pass the very prominently-sited, and firmly closed and boarded, George.

Both these pubs are to be congratulated on doing well in a declining market, but it would be a mistake from that to conclude that a lot of other pubs would benefit from adopting that particular trading format. They are catering well for a substantial, but still ultimately limited, market of beer enthusiasts. Indeed it could be said of the customers of the Crown and Magnet that they are people for whom going to pubs and sampling different beers is a specific hobby that they pursue, rather than just something they do as part of the normal routines of everyday life.

So it could well be that in future the overall pub market continues to shrink substantially year-on-year, but the specialist beer pubs continue to thrive by catering specifically for beer enthusiasts. And those beer enthusiasts, and even people who just like the atmosphere of pubs in general, will increasingly gravitate towards those pubs as they alone will offer the choice of beers, and the congenial company, that they are looking for.

I have written in the past of the future of the pub trade (or the “wet” pub trade anyway) being one of increasingly retreating into a small urban niche. And you can see it happening before your own eyes in Stockport.