Churchill's New Owners: An Open Letter
Photo by Monica McGivern
In the early '80s, Pepsi had begun seriously encroaching on sales of Coca-Cola, even outselling the latter in supermarkets.
In an effort to rejuvenate sales, Coke outright replaced its formula with what would be known as "New Coke" -- an "improved" version of the formula that would replace the original for 77 days before the company relented and re-introduced the old Coke as "Coke Classic."
As the new owners of Churchill's Pub, you're already running into a similar dilemma.
Photo by Monica McGivern Freedom! Essential to the Churchill's formula.
Perhaps what's most interesting about the New Coke story is that consumers in taste-tests actually favored the fresh formula -- and the initial sales jumped in most of the country. This wasn't an arbitrary decision made by their executives, who actually verified that most people thought it tasted better before launching it.
Unfortunately, the problem was not with "most people." A smaller but more vocal group of Coke aficionados loudly objected to the tampering with the old brand and taste, and managed to undermine "New Coke."
Coca-Cola's President Donald Keough at a press conference said: "The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people."
As for Churchill's Pub, Dave Daniels didn't just run a bar -- he ran a brand, and that brand involved a particular, anything-goes ethic that led to a cult-like following among its patrons. If there's one thing you can say about Churchill's fans, it's that they have a "deep and abiding emotional attachment" to the formula.
Dave's approach -- allowing the place to be an incubator of music without the frill or amenities of modern bars -- probably didn't look good on paper and cost some sales. Going to Churchill's has been an adventure, and not always in a good way. But every once in a while, you'd see the Best Show You've Ever Seen -- or the start of a band or artist that would go on to international fame. It was consistently unpredictable and sometimes explosively, outrageously cool.
The fact that he would allow Rat Bastard and others to promote (literal) noise on Thursdays -- two decades before he'd actually start to make money on the International Noise Conference -- was either amazingly prescient or crazy, depending on how you want to view the overall return on investment.
Most bars opened 30 years ago are long gone. Churchill's just sold for a boatload of money.
See also: Churchill's Pub Sale Finalized