LANDLORDS are flowing out of the pub industry faster than you can pour a pint of beer, calling time on 39 British pubs a week.
Roy Myers, however, is sailing merrily in the other direction.
Not content with running two Teesside watering holes with partner Janet Coser, he has snapped up the leasehold of The Victoria pub in Saltburn and is hoping a £55,000 refurbishment will promote the venue as a vibrant community hub.
That could take some doing in the worst trading environment the industry has faced in decades.
Heavy supermarket competition, soaring taxes and the smoking ban have created a potentially lethal cocktail which doom-mongers say could spell the end of the traditional English pub.
But the battle-hardened Yorkshireman who captained England rugby under-19s in his youth is relishing his industry scrum.
“The recession has devastated the industry but the cream of the pubs will remain strong and rise again.
“The British community needs the British pub.
“You can’t survive now if you are just a wet house (selling just drinks). But if you’re in a good location and offer good food, a good feel to the place, entertainment, conference facilities ... there’s more reason for people to come in.”
At least he has a creditable track record in the pub game, generating annual sales of £1.1m as owner manager of O’Grady’s at Redcar and running The Pier Inn in Whitby for building specialist Manxguard.
Across the three pubs, which employ around 80 staff, he’s confident of generating more than £2m a year for the local economy and finding new income streams to reduce his reliance on wet sales, which currently account for 60% of total revenues.
Pre-requisites for survival, he says, are good food - O’Grady’s cooks up 350 Sunday lunches each week - and a stout refusal to get ensnared by the controversial beer tie which has sparked fierce cat-fights between pub companies (pubcos) and their tenants.
The tie forces landlords to buy products from their pubco at above-market prices but guarantees a steady supply of beer into the pub.
New pubs minister John Healey has pledged to break the model through regulation if the industry fails to offer the “free of tie” arrangement successfully negotiated between Roy and Manxguard.
But the Yorkshireman says the tie should never have been born, citing it as a major factor in the closure of more than 6,000 British pubs in five years.
“The model just doesn’t work. It’s all in favour of the pubco.
“On wet sales we make 62% gross profit; that would come down to 47% with the tie.”
Although pubcos haven’t been immune to the recession, they’re still raking in healthy profits.
Last week Punch Taverns, the UK’s biggest pub group with more than 7,100 outlets, posted 20% slump in half-year profits but still made £66m in the six months to March 6.
Not that Roy is in it for the money.
Born and raised in the picturesque market town of Ripon, he was more interested in sport than number-crunching as a youngster, going on to represent Yorkshire and England at youth-level rugby and cricket.
After leaving school he spent 15 years at the Inland Revenue. He thought he’d be albe to combine a career in the civil service with his sporting ambitions.
As he entered his early 30s, ambitions of full international honours had begun to fade and he started seeking other career avenues, honing his sales skills as a contracts manager for a sportswear business owned by former Boro legend, Willie Maddren.
In 1998 he became the steward at Marton Cricket Club, simultaneously working behind the bar.
But his straight-talking style didn’t go down well with some of the members and he left to help run Marton’s Southern Cross pub owned by Scottish & Newcastle.
He left there to manage the Clarendon pub in Redcar and took on a 21-year lease when the owners sold up to Enterprise Inns.
He went on to run the Colburn Lodge in Catterick and the Winning Post in Redcar before being offered a private lease at O’Grady’s.
Since then, he and Janet have re-balanced their portfolio by taking on the Pier Inn and The Victoria and giving up the Clarendon and the Winning Post.
Now they want the Government to create a level playing field with a regulatory clamp-down on supermarket sheds that sell cut-price booze as a “loss leader”.
Janet says: “Higher taxes on pubs won’t tackle the problem of youngsters going to supermarkets and getting drunk on cheap cider.
“A minimum price per unit in supermarkets might help.”
Born: Ripon, North Yorkshire
Downtime: He’s ditched the cricketing whites and now enjoys driving around the UK countryside.
Family life: Lives in Saltburn with his partner Janet and has two children, Joanne, 25 and 16-year-old John.
Business advice: Look after your customers.
Claim to fame: Representing England at rugby and cricket.
Strengths: Tenacity and getting the best out of people.