Sunday, 18 January 2015

Look at Me Everybody!

Well we’re already halfway through January and in my, albeit somewhat limited experience of what’s happening in the pub trade I haven’t seen much evidence of this Dryanuary nonsense. Admittedly I blocked the ads for this self-serving, self-effacing exercise for people to blow their own trumpets, from appearing on my own Facebook page, as I was sick of seeing them pop up every time I logged on. If the money raised is supposed to help fund cancer research, then splashing adverts all over social media is hardly an example of money well spent!

Leaving aside the dubious nature of the fundraising itself, I am yet to be convinced of the value of any of this, apart from helping the cause of the anti-alcohol brigade, whilst at the same time helping to swell the coffers of the charities concerned. We all know charity is big business these days; a drive past the flashy head-office of the Charity’s Aid Foundation at the nearby Kings Hill Business-Park yesterday confirmed this. It is also no big secret that the large charities, and quite a few of the not so large, pay their top executives massively inflated salaries. An acquaintance of mine hawks his services as a data base manager around various such organisations on a short-term contract basis. I wouldn’t dream of asking how much he earns from this, but the fact him and his wife can afford to spend several months each year in Australia tells me it is certainly not small beer!

To return to the Dryanuary campaign for a moment, I wish to state that I have nothing against people who, for genuine health or indeed personal reasons, wish to abstain from drink for a period of time. If it genuinely makes them fell good then fine; but please leave out the self-satisfied smugness and please don’t plaster your “achievement” all over social media.

That said, there is no proven health benefit from giving up alcohol totally unless, of course, one has a serious drink problem or is a registered alcoholic. Cut down, if you must and drink sensibly – but not by following the ridiculous Department of Health guidelines where, as we all know, the figures were literally “plucked out of thin air”!

Also, January is the worst month possible for people to be abstaining, especially as far as the licensed trade is concerned. I know from our own experience of running an off-licence that whilst Christmas is undoubtedly good for trade, you definitely feel the flip-side come January. After the over-indulgence and massive over-spend of the festive season, trade in January falls off a cliff. This plays serious havoc with your cash flow, as the Christmas bills all start to come in. I remember us nearly going under one New Year when a local builder’s merchants insisted on a full 30 days credit for a large order, mainly of spirits, we had supplied for Christmas. We of course, had our suppliers to pay, but on top of this we had paid upfront for a large chunk of this order, as the local Cash & Carry does what it says on the tin, i.e. you pay for your goods at time of purchase!

We learned the hard way, and after that it was cash strictly on delivery, but this example illustrates the problem facing small businesses that without sufficient cash to cover the day to day running costs, many risk going under. The last thing a cash-strapped publican wants is silly self-centred people going “dry” for the month, just because their mates are doing it. Get a life for f***s sake!

In the eight years since we sold our off-licence business, the situation the licensed trade finds itself in has got steadily worse. January now even more so than before, can be the month which breaks a publican’s business. This one month can undermine all the hard work of the year before and, at a time when most people are looking forward to the year ahead, starts the New Year off on a real low. If you really care about our pubs it is definitely NOT the month to be going dry!

Sheffield Blogger, Wee Beefy summed this up nicely on a recent post.

“No-one is suggesting you should, say, drink to excess at Christmas and then carry on a booze fuelled orgy of over indulgence into January. What I am saying is, do continue to go to the pub, and keep money running through the tills of the places you would expect to drink in, or outside of, when the summer sun comes.”

“A friend of mine recently said he was giving up alcohol for January. He wasn't doing it as part of a charity campaign, but he noticed his friends were doing it and wanted to join in. I'm not for a second suggesting that my pub and bus stop learnt medical acumen stretches to doubting the benefits of a dry month, but I do know that January is not the month to do it. Someone who works in one of Sheffield's numerous real ale pubs said he had friends who'd made the same threat, sorry, promise. His response had been “Well, I wonder if there's some way I can go and fuck up your business in January as well.” He was joking, of course. Sort of.”

Dave Bailey, over at HardKnott Dave, makes an eloquent plea along the same lines. Dave of course, runs his own HardKnott Brewery, up in the Lake District, and suffers from exactly the same cash flow problems I mentioned earlier. It’s even worse for a brewery, especially when you have to keep chasing strapped-for-cash publicans to pay for the beer you supplied them in the run up to Christmas.

He summarises the problem by stating, “What we would all like in business is solid, dependable and constant cash-flow. Buying in of raw materials, production, delivery and timely payment of invoices. Seasonality mucks this up something terrible. We need to try and find enough cash resources to fund the production of extra beer in November and December if we are to fully benefit from this peak in trade. On top of the risk of not selling what beer has been made, there is the difficulty and cost of finding that cash.”

I will end on a similar note to Dave, and that is a suggestion to give Tryanuary a go as an alternative. This is where you try something new, or something different during January instead.  As their website says: "Make it your mission to seek out new INDEPENDENT breweries, beers, bars and bottle shops, and share your discoveries with people throughout January. This isn't about drinking more. It's about trying something different. Tasting something new. Experiencing something interesting."

Here, here!!


Jon R said...

I work full time in the charity sector and also operate a small commercial brewery. I have no personal intention of ever participating in Dryathlon *shudder* and agree with most of the criticisms I hear of it from people involved in the beer trade.

Unfortunately in this blog post you've repeated a tiresome fallacy that people who work for charities ought to be doing so primarily out of the goodness of their hearts and in return for lower wages than people working in other industries. I do not see why this is the case. Few other professions (either those of high social utility, such as nurses, or low social utility, such as lettings agents) are routinely told by The Man In The Street that they should seek a lower income and lower quality of life than anyone else, dress in sack cloth and model themselves on Teresa of Calcutta for their nine-to-five.

Crypto-bourgeois chief executives excepted, everyone in the charity sector is just a worker like anyone else and deserves to be paid a fair wage and to work in a pleasant environment. Your friend, the database expert, undoubtedly does a good job and does not deserve to have his or her family holidays publicly questioned by an unqualified armchair fiscal pundit dispensing nuggets of pure codswallop in between swigs of Old Speckled Hen.

I also wonder how you suppose charities would effectively raise funds and perform good works if they were to rely only on the services of low-waged (or no-waged) saints? It is completely implausible and this chuckle-headed "received wisdom" that you've mindlessly parroted needs to be put to bed.

Otherwise, good post.

Paul Bailey said...

Thank-you for your comments Jon R and for your well thought out criticisms regarding my views on the charity sector.

I am currently drafting what I hope is an equally well thought out response, and will reply to the points you have raised in a day or two’s time.

Paul Bailey said...

Jon R, despite my earlier comment I am not going to spend a lot of time replying to the points you raised about charities. My original post was about the damage campaigns such as Dry January and Dryathlon are doing to the licensed trade in general and the pub trade in particular. I stand by everything I said in the article, and in addition have not changed my mind about charities.

You obviously have more than an interest here as, by your own admission, you work in the charity sector. Good luck to you; each of us has to earn his or her living as we see fit. None of this detracts from charities being big-business, paying their chief executives large sums of money. Many have also become self-perpetuating organisations, existing more to raise money than actually spending it on the causes they purport to support. I have no interest in how much they pay the rest of their workers, and certainly did not express an opinion on this subject in my original post. However, I would like to think that the wage paid to the typical charity worker is a sum which reflects a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

What is worth noting though, is the so-called charity behind Dry January is Alcohol Concern; an organisation which is a front for the temperance movement, and one which is pressing for further restrictions on drinking and curbs on people’s enjoyment.

What is also worth noting is that when you decry someone you have never met as “an unqualified armchair fiscal pundit dispensing nuggets of pure codswallop”, you are equally guilty of making judgements every bit as wide of the mark as those you accuse me of.

Finally, I don’t swig my beer and neither do I drink Old Speckled Hen. One further example of making unsubstantiated judgements!