Pub licensees have their say…

On Tuesday this week, KAM hosted our 2nd annual Leased & Tenanted Spotlight event. 250 industry heavyweights were in attendance, as we shared the latest research results from the KAM Licensee Index, alongside in-depth panel discussions, featuring, among others, the likes of Clive Chesser (CEO, Punch Pubs), Shirley Couchman (COO, Wells & Co), Steve Alton (CEO, BII) and Kate Nicholls (CEO, UKH). Insight & Strategy Director, Blake Gladman, shares his thoughts on the day…

“This year’s event was held at the majestic St Marys Church in Central London, but that wasn’t the only reason that this felt like a religious experience. The atmosphere was electric and the buzz in the room palpable. A big thank you to all our speakers, panellists and partners for making it such a fantastic occasion.

The main takeaway from our latest ‘Licensee Index’ research is the wave of optimism that is being show by licensees. With levels at their highest since 2018. Clearly, the landscape remains a very challenging one (a point reiterated by many a spokesperson throughout the event), however, there is, at least, levels of certainty that have been conspicuous by their absence over the last couple of years.

“Certainty is a valuable currency” Keris De Villiers, Grumpy Pub Co

Pubs know that they will be able to open and to trade, and they know, to a certain extent, the mountains and the molehills that lie ahead over the next 12 months. Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature and look forward to a challenge. Even if a ‘win’ is just surviving, the gauntlet has been laid down and these operators are excited to get to work.

“Certainty is a valuable currency” was one of the key quotes I took from the day. It came from Keris De Villiers (LOYA finalist and BII ambassador, who runs the Grumpy Pub Co, which has four pubs in South London). Nothing is ever 100% certain in life but if pub companies can alleviate as much uncertainty as possible then this becomes an invaluable commodity to licensees as they plan their year ahead.


Support with cost of doing business

Licensee feedback suggested that a key role for pub companies is to be the filter, or quality control, for best partners or suppliers. Be that technology, energy, marketing, food, etc. Utilising the weight of the pub company to allow the individuals to stand on their shoulders and reap the benefits.

All these challenges were raised during our operations panel, alongside recruitment, as being issues which would be hard, if not impossible, to deal with as an independent, small business. But with support from a much larger pub company these issues can be managed and opportunities for growth can emerge. 

“Trust is a powerful asset and can have a halo effect on the wider relationship.”

Most panellists agreed that the key is about building a strong relationship between pub company and licensee. Clive Chesser (CEO, Punch Pubs) reiterated this when he spoke of ‘the importance of trust in the relationship’. As with all unions, trust is a powerful asset, and can have a halo effect on the wider relationship.

We see from the TLI research that licensees are more forgiving of mistakes, or areas in which pub companies fall below standards, when they have an underlying level of trust. Open communication and honesty remain integral to ensuring that trust is maintained through the difficult times. Pub companies that have done just this over the last few years are those which we see rating highly when it comes to overall scores in the survey.

“The BDM needs to be a coach and mentor to licensees”

Another key trend from the research is that licensees are becoming more sophisticated and thus more demanding of the support they want from their pub company. There was some great debate around the role of the BDM, with Ann Elliott (Portfolio NED and Board Advisor) expressing that “the BDM needs to be a coach and mentor to licensees”.


Pivoting from a firefighting role to a consultancy role is not easy, but the BDM has a vital role to play in driving the systematic change in how operators can attract new customers to their venues. Pubs are in a dog fight with countless alternatives for discretionary spend and need to move much faster or risk being left obsolete.

As the pub customers of today and tomorrow, become more demanding, then it’s no surprise that we see licensees expecting more from their pub companies. We’ve moved well beyond a transactional relationship into more of a partnership (when all is going well.)

Optimism is high

This is clear from the TLI data trends over the last 5 years. Standing still is going backwards. However, the rating scores also suggest that there is an appreciation, from licensees, for the work that pub companies have put in to improving the support that they provide.

Overall rating scores are improving across the board, suggesting that, as an industry, the L&T pub sector is in good shape going forward. Hopefully, events such as this can continue to help communicate this message and show that, despite the challenges, the industry is ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work.”

For further information on our TLI research click here. Or to access customer and consumer data, take a look at our Knowledge Hub or sign up to our weekly newsletter.

Blake Gladman

Hi, I'm Blake, Strategy & Insight Director at KAM. I look after all our research products and manage the collection and delivery of insight throughout KAM. I love long runs and good food (the perfect life balance).