When The Old Swan was forced to close its doors, along with every other pub in the country, back in March, the team’s first thought was for its customers rather than the business.
The community local in the Northamptonshire village of Earls Barton had already started a successful dinner delivery service so they decided to continue what they were doing through lockdown.
On top of roasts on Sundays and burgers in the week, the team, led by co-licensees Paul Dexter and Keith Goddard, delivered free stews to vulnerable customers.
But with the pub closed, they needed a new revenue stream to help fund the community service they were providing.
Paul came up with Pub in a Box, which allowed customers to get a little taste of their local while its doors were shut. He explains:
We were not going to lay down and die because the team and the community are too important to us, so we made and gave away hundreds and hundreds of free stews.
“People were missing the pub and we came up with Pub in a Box to gain a bit of revenue. You would get four bottles of beer, some crisps, nuts, pork scratchings, some of the pub’s own beer mats and we would deliver it."
“Then we did a gin in a box with five little gins and the snacks.”
The boxes sold for £20 each and have proved so popular that they continued to sell when the pub re-opened. In fact the team has extended the range of boxes for customers to buy as Christmas gifts. This includes The Rum Treasure Box, The Cocktail Party Box and the Shots of Fun Box.
Paul continues: “They have been so successful and we say to customers now ‘forget the pants and socks, why not buy a pub in a box.”
I think the success of it is because we gave to the community and they gave back. We support them and they support us.
At the same time the pub is providing Christmas hampers to elderly customers thanks to donations from pub users and local shops and businesses.
The latest innovations are just part of the huge impact Paul and Keith have made in the four years since they first took on the Ei tenancy, turning around its reputation as a struggling local to an award winning community venue.
Keith says: “A lot of elderly people had not been to the pub for 25 years but we have seen new people walking in and I think that is down to what we have delivered over lockdown and the environment we have provided here.”
A key part of their success has been using sport to their advantage. The pub sponsors several local sports teams and ensures it shows a wide range of live sport.
Paul continues: “We have a big screen and show all the matches we can and we promote it a lot on Instagram and Facebook, our own website and with word of mouth and with posters and banners.
“It is mainly a football pub, we have a lot of Liverpool, Spurs and West Ham supporters. Pre-covid, Champions League nights were bonkers in here. The take would be double than normal.
It’s more of a challenge with covid, but it’s not going to be here forever. You have to build for the future and keep them entertained and they will come back afterwards.
Their innovative efforts led to BT Sport partner Budweiser Brewing Group nominating Paul for the Manager of the Month award. One that he accepted providing it recognised the efforts of the entire Old Swan team.
Keith Goddard (left), Paul Dexter (right) receive the BT Sport MOTM award with bar manager Luke Roe
He said: “We were really pleased to be nominated by Budweiser, they have been really good to us, as have BT.
“This award is not about one person it is about the team. A football team doesn’t win the Champions League with one player. For us it is always the team.”
As part of the prize the pub received a £1,000 voucher for the BT shop and support from Budweiser, including seven cases of personalised beer bottles. Typically Paul and Keith opted to share these with their staff and customers.
They also received a visit from the BT Sport Sprint team to help them make even more of their in-house and online marketing.
It all helps the pub as it looks forward to its future beyond the pandemic.
Paul adds: “We have met and helped so many people and done so many things. A village pub can work if you have the right ideas. Believe in the team you work with and the community.”
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