JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin was one of the star names at Pub19 in London in early February. In a head to head interview with CGA vice president Peter Martin, here’s what he had to say on some of the hot topics for his company and country.

On… campaigning for Brexit

“They say you shouldn’t get involved [with Brexit]… but it really affects the economy and welfare of pubs in the long run. A lot of people said we’d alienate 50% of our customers [by supporting a vote to leave the EU]… but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference to our sales—it may even have enhanced things a little bit because of the publicity.”

On… switching suppliers after Brexit

“I think it’s a good idea for companies to look around the world for other suppliers… if the UK adopts a free trade approach and eliminates tariffs it will encourage a lot of non-EU suppliers to trade with us, which can help pubs and restaurants. The substitute products have got to be good, but customers will accept you looking around the world.”

On… leadership

“The big danger in a company is of the CEO having a big ego. I soon learned that I don’t know nearly as much as the collective views of customers and staff. It’s so important to absorb the ideas and criticisms of people. Decisions [about Wetherspoon pubs] are made with pub managers, kitchen managers and long-serving staff in attendance, and not by me. If they’re just made by me they’re dire decisions.”

On… branding

“One of the things that can kill pubs and restaurants is the belief in a brand… they’re not brands at all.”

On… Wetherspoon quitting social media

“Everyone said social media was where it’s at… but I thought there’s nothing to be gained by having our pub managers spend so much time over it. A lot of our managers found the need to be on social media quite oppressive, and they were pleased to get the hell out of there. Maybe we’ll be proved wrong on it, but I don’t think so. It’s good to focus on front of house a bit more.”

On… the Wetherspoon app

“I’ve never used it… but it’s a good reason why you shouldn’t listen to the CEO or chairman. When it was suggested I said it was the most stupid thing I’d ever heard because surely part of the ritual of the pub is to go to the bar and have a chat. Who’s going to want to sit down and order on an app? But I was wrong—there are a lot of people who don’t want to go to the bar.”

On… pub locations

“There’s no magic formula for where a pub is located. It’s largely trial and error—and it’s a very expensive error if you make one. We’ve opened in smaller towns that have worked well for us, and that other managed pub companies maybe don’t go into so much. We try to open pubs that have broad appeal… they’re expensive to run but if you can keep trade at a high level it gives you scope to open more pubs.”

On… tax

“I feel now that we can have fewer pubs than I thought 20 years ago, because the tax regime is so balanced against pubs and in favour of supermarkets, and that will cut down the number of pubs overall.”

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On… staff pay

“We pay on average 15% more than the statutory minimum… and over the last ten years, we’ve paid out £360m [in a staff profit share scheme]… I don’t think there’s another PLC that pays as much.”

Tim Martin was talking to Peter Martin at Pub19, which recorded the highest visitor numbers in the show’s five-year history, with more than 4,500 people attending over two days. The show also hosted the launch of The British Pub Market: Reasons to be Optimistic for 2019, a report from CGA and Pub19 that highlights many positive trends in the pub sector. For more about the report and to download a free copy, click here.

     

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