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How the Rothschild Arms aims to spring into summer post-lockdown

Creative landlord Stuart Ladyman shares his secret recipe for venues to bounce back after lockdown

Before new landlord Stuart took over an ailing pub in the village where he’d lived for 20 years, there were usually two regulars propping up the bar – and that was it.

Within months of a successful campaign that saw the villagers of Aston Clinton march on the brewery trying to close it, the 19th-century Rothschild Arms in Buckinghamshire’s commuter belt was buzzing.

It would be still but for Covid-19. But instead of mothballing the business, Stuart has been busier than ever preparing for the future when he’s certain his customers will flock back. Why not try some of his ideas…

Stuart Ladyman at Rothschild Arms

Seize the opportunity

“When we took over, we didn’t have unlimited finances but lockdown meant we had time so we could get on with projects by splitting them into various phases. We ripped the customer area apart and put it back together, adding focal points such as vintage car number plates, advertising signs and even beer trays which will be the first welcoming thing customers see when they return.

“The pub dates back to 1847 and it looked scruffy from the front, so we re-rendered, brought in signwriters to redesign the name in period font and added ‘Ladyman and Sons’. It might not sound much but it’s something people notice and suddenly we had time to do it.”

Make sure you’re a talking point

“My wife Gemma and I wanted the pub to be full of atmosphere, a place where there was never a dull moment and plenty of talking points.

“We put a life-size light-up ET on the roof, fitted a little bench with Laurel and Hardy models to the wall, dressed mannequins as Wonder Woman and deep-sea divers, exposed old beams, opened up fireplaces and even built a tin roof above the bar so it looks like a surf shack.

“There are cinema quad posters we change regularly on the walls so there’s always something new to talk about. When customers are allowed back, there will be a few surprises but that’s what keeps them talking about us.”

Pool table in Rothschild Arms

Spruce up your outdoor space

“We’re hoping for a more relaxed summer so we’ve upgraded outside. We emptied tonnes of sand into our garden area to make a beach, added an old upturned boat and lifebelts, created a ceiling of lights, and added a waterproof, tin cowshed that seats 30 people.

“We’re building an outdoor street kitchen for stonebaked pizzas, burgers and kebabs so even if things don’t go back to normal as quickly as we’d like, we can still offer a strong takeaway service for customers.”

Get ready for the big sporting events

“For major sporting events in the past, we hired a blacked-out marquee with 25 sofas, projector screen and flag for every competing country. Every time England scored we offered a free shot to adults who weren’t driving. That’s just a bit of added value, and it was packed.

“We have four TVs so there’s a choice of matches in different areas. Even if customer numbers are limited this summer, it’s worth looking at the costs and weighing up if the extra takings would be worth investing in more kit.

“We always try to make an occasion of everything. For example, for the darts at Ally Pally we recreated the fun and banter here with games and drinks offers.”

Boat in pub garden

How to win at the Euros

“The Euros mean takings can more than double if you do it right. This year the football runs for a month from 11 June and people will be looking for any excuse to celebrate.

“Be creative and add some beers from the countries taking part so if the Netherlands are playing Italy in the later stages, we might try offers on Amstel and Peroni.

“That idea works well alongside food too so we could theme our street kitchen, and we’ll keep costs and workload down by presenting the food in takeaway boxes.

“The eat-in or takeaway street food concept is quite flexible so we can ramp things up even more for National Barbecue Week which starts on 24 May.”

“Venues took on average £886 extra on drink sales during England’s winning World Cup 2018 games”
- CGA: Volume Pool

Make customers your best advocates

“The best way to build business is to get people talking about you and that’s the case before, during and after lockdown. Because we always have something going on – I moan if there’s no music playing – people will be itching to get back for a feel-good drink and bite to eat.

“Get a reputation for being a good venue for quizzes, pool or darts leagues. We have lots of people who come here from outside the area to play and they come back with their families. The trick is to always keep things fresh and offer customers something memorable.”

Give a warm welcome

“Customers might be a little wary at first after the winter lockdown, so it’s important to make sure everything is clean and safe and that distancing measures are always reinforced because that will reassure people and make them feel comfortable and welcomed back.”

Reward loyalty

“We have a Groovy Gang loyalty scheme customers can join if they pay £100 upfront. That gets them 30 pints or 30 medium glasses of wine. Their name goes on a board in Scrabble letters and each time they have a drink, we update it. Everyone has a laugh about it which generates interest.

“I have no tabs. My tab is in advance and it generates real loyalty. During lockdown we had customers offering to pay in advance in case we were struggling, which was lovely.”

VHS wall in pub

Have a unique selling point

“It doesn’t cost a lot to build a great atmosphere and we have tried to create lots of different rooms. One room has a feature wall of 3,000 VHS video cases all from eBay; the pool room has lots of doors complete with letterboxes and handles. There are original advertising plates dotted around and they all evoke memories.”

Don’t be shy, make a noise

“I prefer to ‘do rather than say’ and trust in people to spread the word, so I’m quite coy about using social media. We have six children who are all into it. They keep an eye on our Facebook page so we always keep people updated on events and offers coming up.

“We’ll use it to advertise live music events in the beach party area which I’m hoping we might be able to put on later in the summer. Fingers crossed!”

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