JD Wetherspoon, or ’Spoons as it is affectionately known, has been described as a national institution.
Wetherspoon, founded by entrepreneur Tim Martin in 1979, has grown off the back of its no-frills image and cheap prices.
But what can retailers learn from this homegrown success story?
Have a visible boss
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin is rarely out of the headlines and has been outspoken on everything from VAT to the sugar tax to Brexit.
For some time Martin has hit out at disparities on VAT and business rates and last year claimed they were “killing pubs”.
“The mulleted maverick even went as far as having beer mats distributed to his near-1,000 pubs arguing the case for leaving Europe”
Meanwhile, his Brexit rants have become infamous, and the mulleted maverick even went as far as having beer mats distributed to his near-1,000 pubs arguing the case for leaving Europe.
Though some retail chief executives might shudder at the prospect of putting their head above the parapet, there is a lesson here.
Martin is a visible beacon for the company and its employees. He’s also out and about in his pubs at least twice a week.
Love or hate his views, people know where they stand with him. While some retail bigwigs shy away from the spotlight, it is not always the best way. Better to front up. A media vacuum is a dangerous thing. Just ask Mike Ashley and Philip Green.
Banish the beats?
Wetherspoon is famed for its lack of music. A big thumbs up in my book.
The reason for no music in Wetherspoon pubs?
Apparently when Martin started the chain, nearly all pubs had music. So, he wanted a point of difference. It also meant punters could enjoy a chat or read a newspaper without distraction.
Plenty of science says that music can stir emotions that will persuade shoppers to part with their hard-earned cash.
However, is there an argument for a different tack?
Last June, M&S revealed it was ditching music in its stores because older customers could find it disorientating and make shopping less enjoyable.
With the amount of people choosing to enjoy their own personal soundtrack, courtesy of their smartphone and a pair of headphones, should more retailers consider binning the beats?
At the very least, it would save on the PRS bill.
Keep your toilets tip-top
This may seem like a piddling (excuse the pun) issue, but it matters.
Wetherspoon’s consistently wins Loo of the Year for its spotless lavs. This may seem surprising due to the general downmarket image of the chain.
“A clean, hygienic bathroom creates a good impression”
But as a former judge of pubs for awards, I often found a toilet tells you a lot about the general standards of an establishment. The same is true of shops. A clean, hygienic bathroom creates a good impression.
And it may just encourage customers to linger longer and splash the cash.
Evolution not revolution
Martin is a fan of tweaks to his business rather than major overhauls. It helps that the pub chain continues to produce strong results, but it still shows that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not always the best approach.
“We’ve almost never had a reorganisation of any description, we’ve just tried to evolve through small weekly improvements”
Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon
“I think that making constant small adjustments to a business is a good philosophy,” he once told The Guardian.
“Don’t try and change the world. You’ll be lucky if you [come up with the next multimillion-pound idea], but if you can just make tiny tweaks every day to make it that bit better, that’s a very powerful force over time.
“At Wetherspoon’s that’s exactly what we’ve tried to do. We’ve almost never had a reorganisation of any description, we’ve just tried to evolve through small weekly improvements.”
There’s always a fine line between pushing the boundaries and overstepping the mark when it comes to marketing.
Wetherspoon’s gets that balance spot on.
One example is the chain’s approach to flagging up its extremely competitive prices. It has compared its price of gin and tonic with other drinking venues – such as The Savoy. A bit of fun, but it reinforces the point.
Wetherspoon’s also does no external advertising – instead relying on the skills of its long-serving PR man to manage its image.
Should retailers be reconsidering how they spend their ad shillings?