Freshers’ your busiest trading period is over, don’t tell me sales were down compared to last year? The double dip recession is biting deeper, fuel costs are spiralling and food costs have more than doubled in the last three years according to the World Bank. Add to that cheap supermarket booze, fears of draconian licensing regulations and increased duty and taxes, it’s easy to form the opinion we’re all doomed! And the easiest solution is to bury our heads in the sand and hope it will all go away…
If they are all doomed this could be a short blog! Best to simply lock your bars lay off your commercial staff and ask for a bigger hand out from your parent body to help with the pastoral care of your members. Job done!
Or you can pull head out of the dirt and fight back! There is no point pretending, we may be facing one of the toughest years trading in a long time, most experts point to 1990 as a comparable climate. Are you equipped to cope, thrive or even survive? Will you bury your head in the sand or form a plan? The high street is gearing up to steal your customers; QSR restaurants are actively recruiting additional staff after increasing numbers of people have down traded during the recession. Groups like Barracuda and J D Wetherspoons are continuing to expand. Academies continue to spring up, claiming 3.25m customers in the age group 18-35. So what will you do?
The end of the world as we know it…
So how did we survive in 1990 I hear you ask? Our core customers were different then, they drank beer in our bars at lunchtime for a start, they played pool, drank more beer and stayed in our venues to attend events. They would eat chips, curly fries and onion rings like there was no tomorrow!
Things have moved on since then. Young adults attend Universities to gain a valuable qualification that they now trade for financial gain in the job market. They study hard. They have a plan.
With the advent of the loan system they now have greater disposable income. They are cash rich and time precious. But the introduction of student fees means they are value conscious. They are discerning, demanding and sought after by high street operators and your competitors alike. They are fiercely targeted. They are savvy. They will spend their money where and when they feel they get most value. Are you equipped for that?
Selling an experience…
Despite looming financial pressures, students will still want to go out to eat and drink. They crave experiences, want to lead and not follow. However, they may go out less often and spend less so it is essential your offer is right – if it isn’t, students will take their time and money elsewhere.
They will become more discriminatory as good value becomes increasingly important. There are a number of things that can be done to help keep generating sales especially during the Freshers’ period; this is the time when many habits are formed by new students, think if it as a chance to recruit new customers! Their experiences of your business during this time will form their opinion for the entire period of their study.
Firstly, ensure your complete offer is right. This should include everything from price and presentation to service and ambiance. Make sure every customer wants to come back. Word of mouth is a huge influencer, so give your members good reason to recommend you to friends.
Where could you be doing better?
Top 5 tips
- Walk the Walk
Look at your business through a fresh pair of (customer) eyes. Take a journey with your customers. Walk the walk. Where could you be doing better?
- Is the exterior of your building in first class order?
- Is your offer, in terms of food and drink, appealing?
- Is your team outstanding all the time?
- Is your ambiance right in both day and night?
- Understand your competition
Visit your competition regularly, walk their walk, and ask yourself:
- What are they doing better than me?
- Have they got any good ideas I can borrow?
- How can differentiate my business?
- Understand your market
Stay up to date with what’s going on in the market place. Always be on the look out for ideas you can use to improve your current offers.
- Read trade press and visit websites
- Talk to colleagues and other people in the trade
- Trend your trading results and investigate performance
- Talk to your customers
- Market Effectively
Letting people know what’s going on in your business is the most important thing you can do to encourage people off their armchairs drinking cheap supermarket and visit you. This doesn’t need to be expensive; many prospective students will start at your website trying to find out what you have to offer
- Social media is a must – Facebook and Twitter particularly for by the minute up to date information
- External posters should be attention grabbing with simple messages
- Do you email any special promotions to your customers
- Visit your own website, is it easy to navigate, are the messages clear?
- Keep ahead of the game
Students like to be trendsetters and leaders rather than followers, make sure you stay at the top of their list for new experiences. When planning any event or promotion, ask yourself how can I make it special for people attending?
- Add value and appeal by bolt on items like ice luges
- Give your event a theme, students love to dress up
There may be tough times ahead but this is a real opportunity for Students’ Unions to consolidate their business, becoming stronger, fitter, leaner and ultimately more profitable.