Software provider CLMS shares its data on pub machine performance over the last few months compared to 2019 figures, with managing director Simon Barff outlining a slow but steady recovery for the pub sector, albeit with some geographical variation due to players shifting away from city centre activity. Is there a new normal on the way?
Coinslot: It’s now four months after lockdown ended and CLMS must have some interesting data to pour through. What are your keynote observations from the past 16 or so weeks of trading?
Simon Barff, managing director at CLMS: We would have to say that compared with other high street gaming offerings the pub sector has had a more complex rebuilding process. The requirements for outdoor only service, then the table only service had a serious impact on that rebuilding process with the real recovery starting as these restrictions were lifted.
The graph data is based on like for like houses measured against the same period in 2019 and clearly demonstrates that the leased and tenanted estates have seen a more robust bounce back on machine income averages over the recovery period so far. It is clear that the impact in Scotland and Wales is trailing the English regional recovery by around the same time frame as the additional lockdowns.
While the machine income averages are recovering we are still trailing on like for like machine numbers with around five percent of managed and 10 percent of tenanted AWPs still not operational, but this is increasing on a weekly basis.
Coinslot: Operators, particularly at the seaside, have had an exceptional summer bolstered by the enthusiasm of people just desperate to get out. Has this factored into the figures?
SB: What we are seeing is that while the session play data hasn’t changed from the pre-pandemic lockdown period, there are significant areas of the country where the recovery is seeing an impact and this revenue has migrated. The City and city centres generally are still trailing behind, which would be expected given the new normal balance that we have all found of office and home working. We don’t know what the long term impact of this will be on the revenue in these venues but we will be monitoring it closely over the coming months.
Coinslot: Looking at pre- Covid, how are the playing stats of late summer 2019 comparing up 2021?
SB: That is the metric that most businesses are looking at currently as it is the only real barometer that can provide a guide as to the recovery and allows retailers to benchmark their machine income levels against sales for the same period.
It will be important to see what happens over the seven weeks leading up to Christmas and then how deep the January dip goes compared with the 2019/20 data. This will provide us with the basis to predict how strong the recovery has been and where the gaps are. We also know that there will be a large number of leased and free trade operators who will be looking at this period as their make or break time as they start to look at their debt burden following the lockdowns as well as the additional fuel and staffing costs will certainly lead to a number exiting the business.
Coinslot: Are there any figures or trends that are surprising you or any that will concern the industry?
SB: Not really, we all know that the business is resilient and that it would recover, however slowly. The AGCs and coastal operators are confirming that this has been a quicker process for them and thankfully look to have bounced back well. This has resulted in them reinvesting in their businesses, which is great news for all of those in the industry who have had a hard time in manufacturing and distribution. There’s the gambling review coming up and the debate around machine play will be scrutinised.
Coinslot: Are the figures you’re seeing indicating a steady performance for the industry?
SB: The session play data that we have been monitoring over the years, from our connected estate, indicates that the levels of stakes across the pub sector remains extremely low with very few players staking more than £40 in a session. The patterns of play now replicate those pre-pandemic.
Coinslot: Finally, we’ve just had Safer Gambling Week. Are the stats showing signs that the safer gambling messaging is getting through?
SB: The session play data we have indicates that the play patterns are the same as normal, but you would expect this given the environment and the fact that we are operating in the lower stake and jackpot sector of the industry where the gaming offer is a secondary activity.