Thursday, 21 October 2010

Beer. Helping ugly people to pull since 9000 BC.

You have to feel sorry for late night operator Luminar. Don’t you? Just a bit?
OK, it’s never been the best loved business in the industry, but it’s only a few years ago that it was a darling of the City, operating around 400 outlets and struggling to bank the cash its bars and clubs generated fast enough.
Luminar is probably the pub and bar trade’s highest profile loser from the relaxation of opening hours initiated by the Licensing Act 2003. It’s business model was, simply, to be the only place in town to get a drink, a dance and the prospect of a snog once last orders had been called  everywhere else.
By charging for admission, the outlets were classed as nightclubs rather than pubs and so opened into the early hours.  Its core customers weren’t too bothered how sticky the carpets were, how low the bouncers’ knuckles dragged, or how warm the lager was.
Once other operators had the option to apply for later opening, Luminar no longer owned the post midnight weekend trade. Without that USP, its outlet numbers have fallen well below 100, and in today’s interim results, the company  has reported same outlet sales down 20.2% in the six months to the end of August.
None of which is much surprise. What is interesting is that Luminar’s recently appointed new management team has conducted “detailed market enable us to better understand the expectations of our customers in the late night industry.”

That must have been an interesting conversation.  Presumably, customers weren’t asked at the end of the evening, when their expectations would probably have focused mainly on a grope and/or a kebab.
What customers want, Luminar reports, is better music, which has prompted it to draft in Ministry of Sound to run dance sessions in its outlets.  We have also undertaken a thorough review of our DJ's to ensure they are providing an experience that our customers demand,” the company says.

That raises the chilling prospect of the ranks of the unemployed being swelled by dozens of mulleted, permatanned 40-something men clutching bags of 80s 12 inch singles.
Customers also want, we learn, cocktails, student nights and live music from the likes of Calvin Harris and Basshunter.
What there’s no mention of is the main ‘expectation’ of most late-night venue customers – the chance of a slow dance, snog and potential close encounter with a member of the opposite sex. The late night sector exists to remove inhibitions with alcohol and music, and bring together people who might never have the chance or inclination to pair off in the sober light of day.
The Coalition has pledged to review the Licensing Act. That may be Luminar’s best hope of a recovery – because demand for the vital social service provided by late night venues isn’t going anywhere.

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