It’s arguably one of the most important utilities required for the running of a licensed premises, but are bar and pub operators paying close enough attention to their commercial water supply?
While cutting costs is the most obvious advantage to shopping around for the best contract, suppliers say there are a range of benefits to assessing your commercial water arrangements.
“A good supplier should be able to help you save money, reduce your environmental impact and save you time,” said James Cardwell-Moore, commercial director of Business Stream.
“There’s a lot more to managing your water supply than simply what comes through your taps.
“The market is increasingly about the extra services on offer, rather than cost alone.”
Services provided by suppliers include advice on water efficiency, usage audits, water meters and discounts on other water-saving devices.
“A good supplier should be a trusted partner in identifying and delivering efficiencies for your business, not just a utility provider,” said Cardwell-Moore.
Licensees were advised to assess the contract they currently have in place, to measure whether or not it might be worth their while to change suppliers.
Alastair Ross of Commercial Water Solutions said there are several things a good water supplier should be providing their client.
These include regular advice on how the licensee can cut the cost of their water bill.
“For example, ice machines and urinals running 24/7 use loads of water,” said Ross.
“Would my supplier tell me this and if they did, how to go about changing this?”
Billing should also be kept clear, said Ross, with detailed breakdowns of costs and calculations as well as access to historic readings and average water usage, so the licensee can see whether usage has increased significantly over time. And, ideally, this information will be available online.
Actually switching to a new supplier can be straightforward, say suppliers.
Generally, a contract will last between one and three years and it should take only a few days to change suppliers.
However, licensees should be aware that there could be a cost involved to end a contract early.
“If you have already transferred [supplier] then you are most likely to be in a contract, however the regulator advises that the maximum penalty for leaving a contract early is the amount of discount received back to the beginning of the current 12-month period,” said Ross.
“For example, if you have been receiving a discount of £100 per month off your bill and you chose to leave seven months into any 12-month period, then the maximum penalty is seven months times £100.
“Therefore whilst you may be offered a bigger discount from some [providers] for multiple year contracts, the penalty to leave early is limited to within a 12-month period.”
Having taken the decision to look into the services offered by different suppliers, there is an important question a licensee should ask themselves, according to Alan Munro of Thames Water Commercial Services.
He said it was important for the licensee to decide whether they wanted a supplier that was able to just cover the basics – such as physical monthly meter reads, accurate on time billing and prompt resolution of queries – or a supplier that would act as a “trusted partner”.
“For most clients switching supplier to take advantage of the discounts available on their water and wastewater bills is only the start of the journey they should be making with their supplier,” said Munro.
“The best suppliers should have the ability to always deliver these significant basic cost reductions, but they should also demonstrate a real desire to work with their clients to help them reduce consumption and help them better manage their water and wastewater supplies.
“Being good is no longer good enough.”
Customer service is king when choosing which firm to work with, said Stewart Yardley, operations director at Clear Business Water.
“Other than cost, one of the most important things which should be considered by licensees when selecting a water company is the supplier’s overall customer service offering,” he said.
“As with any other supply, high level customer service is always important so it is important to gain an understanding of what the supplier can offer you.
“For customers, it is crucial that they are able to speak to a real person as quickly as possible that can handle their issue or question. Nobody wants to be stuck on the phone for long periods of time listening to a machine, so do a bit of homework and find out which companies are good to deal with on a personal level.”
And operators with several units would do well to work with a single supplier across all their venues, advised Tony McHardy, sales director at United Utilities Scotland.
He said that the supplier should be able to understand the differences between the water consumption at each site and advise on the best way to save money across the estate.
“For large varied or multi sites we will help customers undertake benchmarking to understand what their consumption should be,” said McHardy.
“Attention to detail on data, ensuring your portfolio is up to date and correct site charges is essential.
“An integrated water supplier will be able to advise on a complete water and wastewater management solution.”