Country pub sells £25,000 of gift cards in lockdown month

The Devonshire Arms sits on the only junction in  Middle Handley, a stone-built hamlet that is, in owner John’s words, “10 minutes from everywhere”. Encircled by Chesterfield, Sheffield and their periphery villages, father and daughter John and Alex have built an impressive loyal customer base in their first hospitality business from people in the surrounding areas (and we’re sure the few houses across the road, too).

As with all hospitality businesses, Covid-19 brought about the swift closure of its doors and the search for what ‘the new normal’ might look like. Well, for Devonshire Arms it looks a bit like a building site. “We’re a 24/7 business, so there were lots of jobs we could only do with a period of closure” said Hugh, Manager. “The floor’s been sanded and varnished, and the entire downstairs has been redecorated – there have been a lot of paintbrushes flying around!”

“The priority was to ensure that there was a pub to return to for staff, friends and valued customers.”

Most importantly though, the search for ‘the new normal’ was a search for money. “The priority was to ensure that there was a pub to return to for staff, friends and valued customers”, Hugh said. Like many, this involved rapidly implementing new systems and processes. The Devonshire Arms has launched a takeaway service running Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and special offers that focus on future overnight stays. The other major focus in the strategy is, of course, gift cards.

The Devonshire Arms was one of the many companies that became a Toggler in the first week after the lockdown was announced. We’re always monitoring activity across Toggle, and Devonshire Arms have been among the most successful of our recent sign ups, so we gave them a ring and had a chat with Hugh to find out what their strategy was, and if we can share any of their tips or insights.

You already sold gift cards, why didn’t that work for you anymore?

“Customers would buy a hard copy voucher with a code on it, we’d log that code in the EPOS to be redeemed when they come in. We’ve also worked with other partners such as Groupon before with mixed results, so we wanted to bring it in-house.

“Toggle filled the void in that respect.”

People can’t come in to collect vouchers anymore, so we needed a way to automate it because, to deal with the amount of cards we needed to sell, it would require a huge amount of staff hours. We’ve sold over 500 cards so far, and any time it’s taken up is nothing compared to answering the phone, emails, taking details, taking payments – Toggle filled the void in that respect.”

What’s your strategy behind Toggle?

The immediate drive behind the strategy was to get cashflow in the business, so Hugh tested a 50% off cards campaign to see how it goes. “We knew the interest was there, and obviously it’s been really successful”, said Hugh.

A relaunch of this offer included adding a Toggle promotion time limit. Running the specific 50% for a month has been successful in creating action in customers, and gives an opportunity to keep reminding potential customers how long they’ve got left – think a countdown!

Social media looks to be really key for your sales?

The success of Toggle for them doesn’t just come directly from posts about gift cards. For Devonshire Arms, general communication with their customers has been massively important. From letting people know they’ll honour their usual birthday offer for any lockdown birth dates, hosting live music every other week from familiar faces, to keeping them in the loop about the takeaway menu – all this feeds into the connection between brand and customer, and increasing the number of eyeballs on their social and posts about gift cards.

‘The success of Toggle doesn’t just come directly from posts about gift cards.’

“We’ve got a good reach for a single location. We’re a village pub, and our staff live quite widely spread, so we encourage our staff to share what’s going on themselves to expand the reach.”

On top of social, Devonshire Arms has around 3,000 subscribers on their database. They’ve increased the number of emails they send, and make sure the gift card offer is in there too. “Every time we put something out on Facebook or email, we get a spike in sales.”

Hugh spoke about consistency, and how that is perhaps the most important thing. Like many, they’re very careful not to do too much on social, but Hugh surmises that “everyone is sat at home on their phones, they’re waiting for this to come up that is new and different. People are waiting for content to drop in. We’ve seen a huge increase in our social insights and no unsubscribes from our database” despite – in his words – ‘over-using’ social and emails.

Finally, how is the platform?

“Being brutally honest, everything was really straight-forward. The user interface is helpful, it’s clean, simple and easy to navigate. Georgina helped me at the start get set up and answered all my questions which was really useful.

“We signed up on the Monday, and it was live selling a huge number of vouchers on the Wednesday. Set-up was really easy.”

“We signed up on the Monday, and it was live and selling a huge number of vouchers on the Wednesday. Set-up was really easy.”

Hugh said they’re not looking at post-lockdown life just yet. For now it’s “more cleaning, more decorating and more vouchers.”

Find out more about Devonshire Arms by taking a look at their website devonshirearmsmiddlehandley.co.uk. And to see what they’re doing on social media, head to their Facebook page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *