Chris and Rosie Robinson incorporate the image of the historical Stephan Langton character in all customer communications. They actively market the pub by advertising on Google AdWords; appearing in internet directories; sending twice-yearly e-mail shots; featuring in local newspapers and parish magazines; carrying out direct-sales activities, leaflet drops and sponsoring local school and village events.
The Stephan Langton pub also appears in various guides including the Michelin Pub Guide and Hardens Restaurant Guide. Underpinning all marketing activities is the website www.stephan-langton.co.uk, runner-up in Caterer and Hotelkeeper's 2008 Web Awards for the "pub or bar" category, which is regularly updated with news and photos and carries a blog.
"Being located in a very secluded place without a single sign to point you in the right direction means we need to rely heavily on the media and word of mouth to let people know we exist," Chris explains, adding: "The website has proved to be a useful tool - in the past month we had 1,200 visits, 76% from new visitors."
During a team day held at the pub at the end of March, mentor James Horler and 3663's national accounts marketing controller, Catherine Hinchcliff, set goals with the Robinsons to increase net sales by £2,000 per week and gross profit on food from 62% to 68% over the next six months.
Horler discussed how to improve the gross profit by improving kitchen efficiency, costing of all dishes, stock-taking and menu presentation, while Hinchcliff outlined a detailed marketing plan. The team brainstormed ideas to identify the target customers and generate ideas to boost sales, such as hosting monthly menu events and themed nights. These included a regional food event and woodland tour, which will be publicised via table-talkers, postcards, word of mouth and advertising on the website and in local parish magazines.
"The team day was great in terms of setting aims to increase revenue and ideas for activities to boost revenue. I think we've got a good list of events that work and the staff can have a lot of fun doing them too," Horler says. He suggested that the Robinsons inject more of their own personality into the Stephan Langton pub. "I think Chris and Rosie's personalities do need to come out more," he says. "Why can't we have Rosie's home-made bread, Simon's piccalilli, Chris and Rosie's children's favourite dishes on the kids menu and put a photo of Simon up outside the kitchen?"
Horler also praised the amount of marketing the Robinsons have done to date. "Chris and Rosie do a lot of marketing already. They can do some extra things such as advertising new menus and the themed nights, but I wouldn't suggest they spend a lot of money, as people will respond."
Friday Street, Abinger Common, Surrey RH5 6JR, 01306 730775
FIRST CHOICE COFFEE ON THE STEPHAN LANGTON
The Stephan Langton, thanks to its rural location, is a great spot for walkers and families. While the weekend trade is booming, custom trails off during the week, which owners Chris and Rosie Robinson want to address.
"There are no shops around us, just a school and a church, so we offer our support to the local community through fundraising activities, charity raffles and prize vouchers. What we want to do is draw in the parents after they've done the school run, stopping them from going straight toDorking to one of the coffees shops. Stephen Brecher, [business development manager, First Choice Coffee] is helping us to create a quality coffee proposition and to shift the mind-set of our customers; you wouldn't necessarilythink of going to a pub for a morning coffee," Chris says.
Brecher has run a coffee tasting with Chris and Rosie, so they can taste for themselves the difference between the origins. "A coffee offer is about a whole package, so it's crucial to get every part of it right," he says. "I've left Chris and Rosie with three coffees to trial (Grand Café Rainforest Alliance 100% Certified, Grand Café Fairtrade and Grand Café Triple Certified), so that the decision on which coffee they choose to go with will be determined by their customers.
"We have a great relationship with our customers. If we have something new on the menu, I'll always ask them what they think. At the end of the day, they're buying the products, so it's crucial that we're serving what they want to buy," says Chris.
To build on their existing community links, Brecher will be working with Chris and Rosie to create a family-orientated interactive event based on coffee.
It's something fun for the kids to get involved with but will also educate the parents too and will help put Stephan Langton on the Dorking coffee-shop trail," Brecher says.
3663 ON THE STEPHAN LANGTON
Catherine Hinchcliff, marketing controller at 3663, says: "The Stephan Langton has a lot to offer - from its idyllic setting, scratch-cooked menu and fresh local produce, to the welcoming team headed by Chris and Rosie Robinson. Since the couple took over the pub, they have marketed it through direct mail, local advertising and their own award-winning website.Our challenge over the past month has been to devise a commercially based marketing plan building on the existing activity to highlight the pub's attributes to customers and drive more footfall at quiet times and increase average spend at the weekends when the pub is busy."
Following Hinchcliff's initial visit to the pub, she and mentor James Horler joined Rosie, Chris and their team to brainstorm ideas and a path for the business.
"The advice we've received so far has been great," Rosie says. "Catherine has been really enthusiastic about what we are doing and how we can move forward. With her help, we're pulling together a strong marketing plan, so we can set out the path of action we need to take. Running a pub, we don't have much time, so it's helpful having someone on hand to give guidance and a bit of structure.
"Her suggestion of holding events nights is a good idea and we are working together to plan one per month, starting with a regional night which will focus on gourmet food from Surrey. We are looking at different local recipes and will market the night to our regular customers."
Hinchcliff adds: "Introducing food events will drive mid-week trade and draw attention to the menu at the Stephan Langton. One of the main points that came out of the staff brainstorm was that much of the mid-week trade is made up of customers who are celebrating a special event - a birthday, anniversary or promotion - so we are also going to drive activity around this area of business. The team can also look at introducing pricing incentives at the weekends to encourage customers to order more courses and drinks, which should help to increase average spend at busy times."
Rosie concludes: "At first I was worried that by taking on this project there would be too many fingers in the pie, but it's working out really well. James and Catherine are working in tandem and I feel fortunate that we are getting this opportunity. We will be taking on as much advice as possible."
The Robinsons were pleasantly surprised to find the Stephan Langton pub featured on the Vogue website this month in a blog by Boo Murphy.
He wrote: "Local beers, a thoughtful and honest menu, simple decor. The food really is very good. I demand that you make a visit simply to try the mother of all pork pies. Delicious with a pint of local cider. No mistake, this is a very accomplished kitchen that delivers some thoughtful food with plenty of soul."
According to Chris: "The AA Britain's Best Pubs was published last week, which also gave us a great review, and our Stephan Langton pub sign is on the back cover of the book."
On top of extra business generated by school holidays and the Easter weekend, the Robinsons are launching a special springtime set menu for lunch and dinner to lift mid-week sales.
Commenting on the team day with 3663, Chris says: "James's idea was to involve our staff so that their views of the business would be taken into account and that there would be ‘buy in' into the project. This proved to be a successful day and some ambitious goals were set."
In addition, the Robinsons are working with First Choice Coffee to develop their hot beverage offering in terms of training and sales. As Chris says, "It's going to be a busy year," but with first-quarter sales for 2009 up by 4.1% on last year, it should also be a positive one.