Gain a Competitive Advantage

Five Ways to Keep Cash Flowing

It’s no secret that the competitive landscape for pubs and liquor stores in BC is becoming ever more challenging.

Pubs, which were once one of the few places British Columbians had to enjoy a pint, now have to compete with ever-expanding restaurant chains as well as barber shops, farmers markets and craft brew tasting rooms. At the same time, liquor stores that once had a monopoly on Sunday openings and chilled products have not only lost those advantages, but now have to go up against grocery stores that provide a one-stop shop for everything from wine to Windex to watermelon.

So, what is an owner to do? Get creative, of course.

It’s time to think about diversifying revenue streams, to add new ideas and products to the list of taps and pub grub. Here are just a few ideas to consider.


The Early Bird . . .

The pub model in BC evolved from the English public house, that “third place” that was neither home nor work, where the community could gather to talk about footie over a pint of best bitter. It’s only natural that pubs attract people who enjoy traditional British sports such as soccer and rugby.

Given the eight-hour time difference between BC and the UK, those games are often aired early in the morning here, creating an opportunity for pubs. Why not offer breakfast and a game, especially during World Cup and other peak championship periods? Consider other big, international events too, like royal weddings, the opening/closing ceremonies of the Olympics, or TV series finales.

You may not be able sell alcoholic drinks until 11 a.m., but you can sell tickets and maybe even some paraphernalia alongside the full English breakfast. Just be aware that under BC’s liquor licensing laws, you can’t open before 6 am and have to remain closed for half an hour after the event before you can reopen for regular business.


Get Caffeinated

In the UK, where pubs have been hammered by high rents and vicious competition (sound familiar?), publicans are increasingly looking for quality coffee to fill the gap. After all, the people who seek out craft beer are often the same ones who geek out over cold brew, pour overs and the AeroPress.

Still need convincing? The British pub chain Wetherspoons began serving filter coffee with free refills for 99 pence a few of years ago and now claims to sell a million cups a week. It might be time to install that fancy espresso machine.


Offer Classes

Consumers crave knowledge, so why not use your establishment to teach your customers something new? Bring in an expert and charge for the course–or offer it free and use it to promote your brand while hoping attendees order a couple of rounds.
Educational tasting and pairing seminars are an especially good idea. Spinnaker’s Gastro Pub in Victoria, for instance, hosts beer and chocolate pairings while the Queen’s Cross in North Vancouver has led whisky tastings and cocktail demonstrations. Retail stores, too, can bring in wine, beer and spirits sponsors and hold special ticketed events such as a rosé tasting to kick off the summer patio season.

You could also bring in a local author to discuss a recently published book or cookbook, an artist to lead an art class, or a photographer to talk about photography techniques. Not only can you charge a fee for these events, it’s a great way to fill the room during slow times, and to connect with the community as well.


Accessorize Fashionably

In addition to beer, wine and spirits on their shelves, retailers can sell things that complement beverage alcohol. This could include glassware, coolers, openers, corkscrews, packaged snacks, bitters, decanters, cocktail tools, flasks, and similar items. Put the store’s logo on the items and it’s not just a new revenue source, but one that promotes the business at the same time.

As for pubs, branded memorabilia can be a nice little money maker. T-shirts and ball caps branded with your logo are popular, especially if your establishment has a cool name, a memorable location or a special call to fame (the Flying Beaver’s branded panties leap to mind). Collectible pint mugs, coasters and bottle openers are also a good idea.


Share and Share Alike

What pubs and liquor stores offer is a space, a product and an experience. All of those can be shared, bringing in additional revenue and/or spreading out costs.

For instance, even the busiest establishment has down times or unused space that can be rented out to other groups for special events such as corporate gatherings, weddings, club meetings or sports team get-togethers. Not only can a proprietor make money off the rental and food sales, staff can earn extra money serving at the event. Just make sure to comply with any rules and regulations, especially regarding minors.

Another opportunity is to be part of a culinary tour or bar crawl. This is an ideal way to create a community with similar businesses and at the same time bring new customers into your establishment. Tourism Nanaimo, for instance, offers a self-guided Nanaimo Bar Trail that includes cocktails from downtown bars, while Victoria Harbour Ferry’s Pickle Pub Crawl brings patrons to pubs around the city’s Inner Harbour.

Branded memorabilia can be a nice little money maker.

Join with nearby pubs and restaurants and create your own crawl–for instance, an international beer crawl with passports to be stamped, a cover fee and branded paraphernalia for sale. Also consider providing a shuttle to make sure participants have a safe way to get home.

Finally, sponsoring festivals is a great way to get your brand in front of likely consumers, with the potential to set up an onsite store. Legacy Liquor, for example, has become the go-to retailer for Cornucopia and BC Distilled, while High Point Beer, Wine and Spirits offers a pop-up store at the Hopscotch Festival. Meanwhile, the Donnelly Group’s sponsorship of Vancouver Craft Beer Week includes a passport program that brings more and more customers into Donnelly pubs and restaurants.

Pubs and retailers have plenty of competition these days, but plenty of opportunity too, as long as you keep tapping the keg of good ideas.