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The Big Rethink: Joe Cussens

Managing Director Bath Pub Co. (The Locksbrook Inn, The Hare and Hounds and The Marlborough Tavern)

One of the defining characteristics of this crisis has been just how powerless you have felt at times. Ordinarily when major events happen, like the 2008 crash or Brexit, a business can make plans on how it is going to respond.

…But the massive decisions that have been taken recently are completely out of our control – locking down the country for weeks – and not knowing what restrictions you will have when you reopen and the support you will get. Getting everything ready for opening was remarkably stressful. It felt like doing a new pub launch, but we were doing three at the same time in a difficult situation and with only half a team.

So it was strange indeed, but it was exciting to be busy and bustling. I had an army of volunteers helping – I put a tweet out and asked if anyone fancied helping us get back on our feet and I had a really great response.

We had our two maintenance guys back in advance of opening because there was a window of opportunity to do various jobs. So we refitted the kitchen at The Hare and Hounds and have built an outdoor bar there. You are between a rock and a hard place because you’ve got the opportunity and the time to do the jobs but your finances are in a perilous situation. In some ways that’s what being an entrepreneur is about – weighing up risk with opportunity – but it was pushed to the extreme.

My concern is whether we can trade viably under these restrictions

My big worry is that we haven’t yet got on top of this virus, and that there may be a second spike. I am also surprised at the number of enquiries we’ve had for groups of 15 or 20. That sends a worrying signal to me; I do think that the messaging from government hasn’t been consistently clear.

My second concern is whether we can trade viably under these restrictions. How well our outside bars trade is dependent on the weather, and if we just trade indoors we have to reduce the number of covers. What happens in the autumn and winter will be crucial because that’s when all trade comes indoors.

Perhaps coming out of this there will be more awareness about what a difficult business this is to run, how vulnerable we are and that we operate on fine margins

Much depends on the support the government will give. The tax burden that we face is extraordinary compared to other businesses, and because we’re a high turnover industry they think there is plenty of money in the background. But we are taxed within an inch of our lives with VAT and business rates. Perhaps coming out of this there will be more awareness about what a difficult business this is to run, how vulnerable we are and that we operate on fine margins.

Fundamentally our business is about offering food and drink in a friendly and convivial atmosphere. There is always going to be a market for that.

thebathpubcompany.com

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