What can brands learn from Wetherspoons?

Photo by Calflier001. Used under a Creative Commons License. 

I recently saw an article on The Economist website about the success of JD Wetherspoon, or Wetherspoons, as these chain pubs are commonly known.

It talked about how the owner, Tim Martin, was attracting a bigger, more diverse audience – which includes ‘teenagers, old codgers and young mothers’ – than smaller, non-chain competitors. He thinks there are three reasons for this success, and I want to share them here.

If you’re reading this and currently taking part in Dry January, I’m sorry if the talk of pubs makes you crazy for alcohol. I’ll make it up to you next month. You’ll see.

Anyway, Tim believes the following has helped his brand be successful.

Giving people what they want

Tim spends a lot of time visiting his pubs and listening to his customers. Two days a week, in fact. ‘He interrogates landlords and mingles with punters, doing so alone to ensure he is “exposed to what people really think.”’

From these conversations, he’s learned customers want mellow lighting, early opening hours and cooked breakfasts, and the latter is the best-selling dish on his menus. “When things go wrong at big retailers it’s usually because they’ve lost that connection [with customers],” says Tim. Does this mean some brands have collapsed through not paying attention to theirs?

Not having a target audience

Years ago, Tim was mocked for ignoring studies on appealing to specific crowds. He decided not to aim his pubs at men over 50 or women under 30, for example. He believes “a pub is best when it’s a melting pot,” and clearly he’s on to something. Today, ‘pubs aimed specifically at women, old people and other groups are failing.’

Everyone wants to feel welcome at a pub, and quirky ideas don’t always appeal to the masses. ‘Dishes served on bricks, in jam-jars and the like,’ may look lovely to some niche audiences, but they look silly to everyone else. Plates and cutlery may be boring, but they’re easy for everyone to use.

Keeping prices low

A simple way of appealing to the masses, however, is to not crush their bank balances. Many small businesses fail ‘because they charge too much in the country’s wage-stagnant economy.’ But Tim’s business is thriving thanks to the relatively low costs of food and drink at his pubs.

 A successful brand

 Listening to customers, lowering prices and appealing to everyone has made Wetherspoons a successful brand. The first two may be obvious, but the latter may puzzle marketers who believe appealing to an average reader is essential.

What other brands are doing well? Why do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



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