Friday, January 12, 2007

Lewes Arms Boycott / Cuban Salsa

The Lewes Arms Boycott

The current boycott of the Lewes Arms is one of the strangest disputes I have ever encountered.

The Lewes Arms is perhaps the most pleasant, homely and, until recently, popular public house in Lewes, East Sussex, UK.

Often one would go in and queue in a three or four thick scrum at the bar to get served because the demand was so great. You did it because it such an affable place and the beer was excellent.

I generally drank the local beer, Harveys Best Bitter, brewed a few hundred yards away, and therein lies the crux of this strange tale.

This highly profitable public house is owned by the brewery Greene King, of Suffolk, which decided to drop Harveys Best from the Lewes Arm and replace it with its own, phony Lewes brew.

Of course it is the prerogative of any business to decide which products to offer its market. On that it lives or dies.

Greene King clearly felt that it could increase its profit margin by offering its own brew in its own pub without competition from another brewery's beers. Fair enough.

What the management of Greene King did not count on, however, was the enormous loyalty of the Lewes Arms customers to their genuine local brew.

Perhaps the customers also felt the brewery was trying to pull the wool over their eyes - treating them like idiots - by offering a faux Lewes ale - complete with 'borrowed' local coat of arms.

No matter. It became quickly apparent weeks ago that the high-spending crowd at the Lewes Arms was not going to live with the dropping of Harveys Best.

Faced with a barrage of protest and the intervention of the parochial local MP Norman Baker, Greene King bloody-mindedly went ahead and dropped it anyway.

It is at this juncture in my view that a simple business mistake turned into a Marx Brothers comedy.

The Lewes Arms customers en masse have gone on strike, boycotting their local and staging regular pickets outside. Even the pub's drama society is performing its annual pantomime elsewhere.

The pub has lost not a small band of die-hard boozers but hundreds of regulars from all walks of life with wonga bulging in their pockets. Greene King has managed to alienate an entire town. A remarkable gaffe by anyone's standards.

The Lewes Arms – to my knowledge the only pub in the town with a late licence – has been transformed from being one of the most packed hostelries in the county to the licensed premises equivalent of the Marie Celeste, with only the ghostly bar staff (pictured at the top of this blog) idling away the hours on the wrong side of the bar, pretending to be customers!

If I were the boss of Greene King, I would have a few harsh words to say to the executives responsible for this shaming debacle. They have turned this pub - and their company - into a business laughing stock in my opinion.

What would the management guru Tom Peters reckon to it? I daresay the concept of finding out what your customers really want and then – needlessly - taking it away from them would be repugnant to him.

What would legendary General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Jack Welch make of it? I'd say there would soon be some empty saddles in the OK Corral at Greene King HQ if he was mopping up.

Drinkers boycotting the Lewes Arms, Lewes The sight of local barristers and solicitors boycotting the Lewes Arms beggars belief, as does a famous photographer from The Guardian newspaper coming down from London to picture the locals drinking their own booze outside the beleagued pub.

Does Greene King have any concept of how much reputational damage this is doing them?

What would happen if the boycott spread across the county or even became national and all their pubs and beers were blacklisted by ale drinkers? It's be all over for them.

Greene King's share price is currently riding high on the wave of a buoyant stock market, but financial analysts are sensitive folk. If I was still working in the City, I guess I would have grave doubts about a company that ignores the views of its customers and does not worry about losing money.

To me it would indicate a fundamental flaw in management thinking and poor or no strategic planning. No Plan B. No flexibility. I would wonder what else was going wrong under the Greene King bonnet unbeknown to investors.

And I would certainly flog my shares in Greene King while the going was good. When confidence collapses in a company's senior management, the share price can fall through the floor.

The company strikes me as being overly focused on the rest of the brewing industry - concentrating on acquisitions of other companies - rather than being customer-focused and striving to better serve, retain and, of course, profit from existing, happy customers.

From a pragmatic, business perspective, I believe Greene King now has two options to resolve this issue:

1. Bring back Harveys beer to the Lewes Arms, re-train or let go the executives responsible for getting the company into this PR disaster, and apologise unreservedly to the customers, or

2. Sell the Lewes Arms.

I do not know which they will take. Judging by their performance thusfar, I suspect the latter.

Meanwhile, Lewes's many other excellent pubs are reaping the benefits and the Lewes Arms regular are writing an interesting blog about their campaign and putting up Boycott Greene King posters all over the place. I say good luck to them.

If Greene King's senior management don't start listening to their customers, the sun will set on them.

 Chewing Gum Marriage (Flashback to Tuesday, 11 April 2006).

7.23pm. Leamington Garret. according to the Town Hall Clock Tower, which I have been photographing out of the garret window.

Glass of red wine in hand and Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits on the stereo, I am chilling out after my day at work.

In my lunch break, I tried to sort myself out with a blog on a website called Simpler than I imagined. I was fiddling around and a pop-up appeared and said a blog had been prepared for me! I looked at my newly born blog - it was rubbish!

I had wanted to use a format designer called Caz who a good blog, Olivia's London Dispatches , employs. But I could not work out how to import it. So I picked one I was not as keen on, although it is greenish and still looks good. Green is my favourite colour and also my eye colour.

The point of the blog is to be an integral part of my website, Oliver's Poetry. This is my second entry, although probably not the second you have read. I am not sure I am doing a great job on the poetry front. Later I am going to salsa class and finish that poem.
11.07pm, although I can hardly see the Town Hall Clock now in the darkness over the roof tops of Royal Leamington Spa.

The salsa lesson was typically perplexing. The Cuban guy who takes it likes to speak in a slow deep voice to win our attention. He is like a cross between Fidel Castro and a Dr Who alien. I rather like the guy, although I rarely completely entirely follow the moves. (Although, to be fair, that is always true in my case).

I am wondering how this concept of one-day-forward, one-day-back blogging will fit into the strait jacket format of website. I may find myself appending the Backblogs to the end of the blogs. And when I run out of flashbacks (backblogs), should I start inventing them?

An old track by 10cc has come on to the late-night boogie box and, suddenly, I find myself thinking of people who are long gone, blown away by destiny, some of them dead.

I must finish that poem.

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