As freshers’ week nears, Chris Beddows, head of bar business development at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, reveals how his venues bid to appeal to undergraduates.
What are the most popular drinks among your student clientele?
Chris Beddows: The top selling brands fluctuate between venues – what a student drinks in the evening in the Library Bar while eating a freshly made pizza is different to what they’ll drink in our nightclub, Potterrow, on a Saturday night.
The brand that remains the most popular to this day in our nightclub is VK, in all its variants. However, spirits remain high in the sales mix, Smirnoff being the most popular. Funnily enough ‘snakebite and black’ (or ‘diesel’) is still the most popular on draught in the nightclub after all these years.
In the rest of our bars throughout the academic year, draught beers are popular, with brands like Kronenbourg and Grolsch on the up, along with real ales, fine wines, ciders and craft beers.
How have trading conditions changed over the years?
CB: We have noticed from our nightclub that students are going out a lot later at night, whether they are visiting other bars earlier in the evening or having a drink at home and not heading out till later in the evening.
Over the last three years EUSA has gone through some pretty significant changes and these positive moves have allowed us to reinvest every penny into our spaces.
Year on year sales data has proven that it’s not just the cheap pints that attracts customers, but comfortable, clean, safe and quality surroundings.
Value is important but the right environment is the key to our success.
Our venues are fully staffed by students which is testament to their professionalism and helps students have ownership of their venues all-year round. We invest heavily in their training and well-being – Rachel Dyas, our bars service manager, has invested a lot of time developing a training programme, allowing all staff to receive full training in all aspects of bars.
What plans do you have in place to capitalise on freshers’ week?
CB: We aim to get as many freshers to experience our venues and to give them the best possible impression to ensure they continue to make full use of their unions throughout their four years at university.
Our programme of more than 700 events is central to the success of this approach. We try to cater for different tastes with events ranging from live music from Admiral Fallow and comedy from Patrick Monhan to club nights featuring dubstep favourite Jackwob.
A proportion of these events are free of charge but some require a small payment on the door.
Are brands changing the way they market to students?
CB: We still receive the odd point of sale kit to drive sales, offer t-shirts or tickets to festivals, but gone are the days of alcohol promotions like ‘BOGOFs’ or doubles for 99p.
We now work closely with our partners to incentivise staff to promote their brands – this is more effective than any promotion we run.
How broad are students’ drinking repertoires today?
CB: We offer a diverse range of products to students – we recognise that we can’t stock everything but do listen to what they’re looking for.
Only last year we were asked to sell craft bottled beers which we did, and still are in the Library Bar today.
Ten years ago, it was safe to say that ‘snakebite and black’ was the number one drink, with RTDs really gathering pace in the marketplace; standard lagers were the norm with most of our venues selling that over everything else.
What we’ve seen over the past few years is a change over to more premium beers and, more recently, a surge in requests for craft beers.
We also found that by updating our wines to those you can’t find in a supermarket our wine sales increased, but RTDs are still popular in our Potterrow venue.
How do you market to students?
CB: Online communities and peer recommendations are crucial to creating an engaged audience that you can communicate with regularly.
Budgets are always a concern for students but they still expect quality: we’ve responded by offering targeted short-term deals rather than permanently low prices.
Anyone marketing to students needs to be inventive and slightly irreverent. Students are often very politically engaged and environmentally-conscious, so ethical campaigns can be very successful.
We regard social media as crucial and recently hired a digital marketing officer to work continuously on online promotion.
Image – EUSA’s four properties – Teviot, Potterrow, Pleasance and Kings Buildings – serve as some of the biggest Edinburgh Fringe venues during August. Bar business development manager Chris Beddows said the association would retain its Fringe outdoor drinking experience at the Pleasance to give students a flavour of the Festival Fringe experience.