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What better time to start blogging again? The pubs have shut and necking cold lager at home is now the default option. When I say start, there’s no actual guarantee of part 2. Only an intention.

This blog started as a light-hearted two fingers to beer bloggery, rarely attempting anything like a serious analysis of the themes it presented. That of debunking the many dubious claims of those that wanted to see the government give a kicking to mainstream alcohol or low-priced supermarket alcohol offers.

I personally enjoy pubs and am sad they are shut. Even when enjoying a cheap drink at home, it was nice knowing there were places outside the home, at a wide range of price levels. Whisper it though, knowing the quality of the beer in the cheaper pubs was often better than that in more expensive establishments because of turnover. People love a bargain and cheap beer shifts faster than expensive beer. The cheap pub was often the place you were least likely to pour beer into a flowerpot. Though often the dominant working-class clientele of such establishment creates an atmosphere middle class people struggle to appreciate. I miss those pubs. They rarely graced a peer reviewed book recommending beer or pubs, but they were less likely to let you down.

But this blog post is specifically about my thoughts on Corona, lockdown, and what I think it reveals about the pubscape. Wetherspoons and Brewdog have had an astonishing crisis. MBA students could pick either company as an example of what not to do and what to do in a crisis respectively. The American Schlitz Beer brand was often an example for MBA students and created the term “to Schlitz” as in to incrementally, slowly, debase a core product in the belief that customers would not notice small incremental changes. To save you the bother of studying it yourself, turns out customers did notice, and the brand tanked. It went from bigger than Budweiser to down the pan in short order. Carlsberg are currently trying to De-Schlitz their brand with one of my favourite actors and better Bond villains Mads Mikkelsen.

Anyway, champion of the cheap pint, creator of the everyman pub where all is welcome, creator of a pub chain I personally love, Timbo Martin offered up a jaw dropping example of something any student of the classics know. What follows hubris is nemesis. Details of Tim Martins crass objectional mugging off of his employees and suppliers appalled fans and detractors alike. Wetherspoons has long been a chain sneered at by snobs and boy did he give his detractors ammunition. Here was solid evidence of what an objectional man was steering the ship. A PR disaster all of Timbos own making. For years institutional investors failed to reign in the use of company cash to further Tim’s own political hobby horses and allowed Tim to become as much part of the brand as a Ronald McDonald. Though a cheerier and less frightening looking clown that looked like your Daily Mail reading uncle that makes home brew that all tastes of homebrew of differing shades of brown in his shed and has a stack of 1970s pornography containing ladies with large unkempt bushes of pubic hair you must never tell your auntie about. I confess I liked Timbos persona. I have met him and thought him a decent enough bloke. Old, slightly reactionary but more thoughtful and astute than his public persona belies. A man who has benefited from others under-estimating him and would rather like you to. I agreed with him on Brexit whilst thinking his politicisation of his pubs an amusing failure of corporate governance. But he’s the boss and without someone to reign him in or advise him he revealed a crass an unempathetic approach suggesting he valued his bottom line more than the health of his staff or customers. Oh dear. If only he knew a bit of Greek.

Has he Ratneredhis brand? Will the intuitional investors regret not reigning him in earlier? Is it time for a boring managerial type to take the helm? Time will tell. Will the power of a slightly cheaper pint wash away the bad taste of Timbos crassness? I leave that one open.

Timbos crime, however, really was one of PR. Many high-street companies exist hand to mouth, keeping minimal cash on hand, leasing rather than owning sites, holding debentures on real estate it has on the books, maintaining a geared capital structure with as many bonds issued as share capital. Spoons is not a case study in corporate evil. It is an efficient model of maximising shareholder value. So long at the cash is ringing through the tills. When that stops, then it’s buggared. But it’s not meant to stop. And it did. Timbos main failure was to think he had enough charm to mug people off. A more professional CEO would have smiled through gritted teeth, reassured all creditors everything was fine, had a private panic attack, prostate themselves in front of the bank, have a private cry then put on the shit eating grin for the public.

Holding large amounts of cash is an inefficient thing to do. Too much cash and the markets will have you down as a takeover target. Most business are not prepared to just close the tills and then meet all obligations to staff and suppliers. It’s bad form to hold a mug of tea, fess up to this fact and tell your staff to go work at Tesco, though. Proper professional managers lie.

The second case study of your future MBA has been Brewdog. At first they excited all of the beer world with irreverent marketing and hoppy head banging beer, Then as they grew it became more tiresome and hypocritical that a large corporate entity was still pretending to be a small artisanal craft producer whilst flogging boxes of beer in every Tesco, opening a nationwide chain of identikit bars and including their flagship punk IPA in the Spoons meal deals.

Their response to the crisis? In a country that was waking up to the folly of not making the things it needs at a time of crisis they turned their hand to hand sanitizer. A product needed by hospitals and in short supply. Giving it to the NHS for free. How can you not love Brewdog? How can you not want to kiss these guys? The world is turning to shit, and they turn themselves into a national asset. They weren’t the only ones. Craft gin producers were quick to get in on it. I’m not being cynical. I’m sure every little helps and all these motives are sincere and it likely saved lives. My round of applause to them is genuine. But as an exercise on coming out of the crisis with your brand enhanced. It’s pretty good.

In Part 2 I intend to offer my commentary and ill-informed thoughts on pub rents, those giving their tenants a break, those demanding the rent and something an old professor once taught me about how the most successful companies are not in the business you think they are in, they are in the real estate business and if it looks like feudalism that’s because it probably is.