Today I’d like to share an example of a pub that finds itself in a tricky situation. A community/neighbourhood pub in the heart of “student land” in Oxford frequented by locals and students alike- The Cowley Retreat
So how do they keep both types of customer happy? I went down to meet with the team to find out.
You’ve been in the pub for 4 year, what was the original business plan- and, more importantly, have you stuck to it?
“With both Oxford University, and Oxford Brookes, we are based in a very “studenty” city. We wanted to include students and welcome them to the venue, but not at the expense of the local community, often in pubs and bars around here the two types of customer can’t mix, either the students aren’t welcome in the community venues of the locals aren’t welcome in the student venues; we wanted to break that mold. Our challenge was to create a community/neighborhood venue where students and locals can feel equally at home.”
And how have you been attracting and retaining the student pound?
“We go to each Fresher’s Fair, we talk to the newcomers and we give out a notebook with our logo on; every lecture theatre you go into you see flashes of red and black, the students love them. We have also aligned ourselves with the sports teams, we give them baseball caps, T-Shirts and we sponsor some teams at Oxford Brookes- in fact the Hockey President, when asked why they go to the Cowley Retreat said that sports team’s love the venue as it’s the one pub that gives something in return for all of their business. We have netball and rugby connections, the dancers and cheerleaders come in and we sponsor charity tournaments.
Also, we know that, obviously, students are very price-sensitive, so we’ve ensured that we get price right; and our strength is consistency, students enjoy knowing what they are going to get. We offer a ‘2 for 1’ on all cocktails from 5-8pm every day. The drinks may change, but the offer remains the same.”
And what about the community, how do you do all of the above for the students and still get involved in the neighborhood?
“We had to make some changes- when we took over the pub in 2012, there was a bucket at the end of the bar- it was well known this was where the sports teams were sick into after chanting and downing drinks! We don’t allow that mentality in here and we’re too involved with the teams for them to want to misbehave and lose our support. We’ve added a really good, homemade, locally focused food offer, and we support the Oxford “Town and Gown” event, which has nothing to do with the University crowd. We support local charities, and during the annual Cowley Road Carnival we have face painting and other family-friendly events at the pub. We also have good links with the BMW factory in Oxford and staff from there regularly book an area in the pub for events.
And of course, we’ve removed the sick bucket!!”
What trends do you see happening in the pub industry and specifically the student side of things?
“Well, from the student side there has been and will continue to be a decrease in the consumption of alcohol, which we are combatting by pushing our food sales and making sure that the social scene is primary, customers want an experience-led night out, not just the opportunity to get trashed- that’s why we have linked up with Deux, a local events company who arrange “Lock-In’s” where we get a late license and students with a ticket can stay late, have the opportunity to dress up and do something a bit different. They don’t want to queue outside a nightclub just to see VIP’s walk past them, they want to socialize and do something different- we’ve arranged Shisha, DJ’s and all sorts- at the last one we gave people a box of cheesy chips on the way out- they want to see value and we want to keep our customers coming back for more.”
The team at The Cowley Retreat know what they’re doing; even when I was interviewing them, the mix was students and locals, the atmosphere was great and there wasn’t a sick bucket in sight…
This weekend is a BIG birthday for Mr Katy, so a night in tonight in preparation, then a party at our local pub on Saturday night; 50 people, a Prince-themed cake and a “This is your life” video plus a LOT of fizz and beer I’d guess! Sunday we are off out for a posh lunch at Zuma in town followed by a bar or two- any recommendations for some good pubs/bars near Knightsbridge, let me know.
Have fun and see you next week!