Martin Šampalík and Jaroslav Stuna: ‘We knew Czech people love beer’
With 10 branches nationwide, the Pub has tapped into a unique concept that allows customers to pour their own draughts. The minds behind the idea: two college kids.
How did it begin?
MŠ: My colleague was studying medicine, and I was taking economics. We’d been friends for a long time, and we’d both been thinking about how good it would be to start some kind of business while we were in college. Well, I don’t want to say that we were bored [they laugh], but we were full of the enthusiasm and energy to launch our own venture. I thought it would be fun to run a bar or pub.
At that time, it was more about opening an ordinary pub or bar. But by the time we made the decision to open a bar in Plzeň, my colleague’s father was working on a beer distribution system for O2 Arena. So there are a lot of similarities between that system and ours.
JS: It’s similar because it distributes beer from one central storage site to multiple outlets. That’s the general idea, and we thought it would be great to bring this system straight to the people so everyone could tap their own beer.
MŠ: We also had some inspiration from abroad. In Madrid, there were people working on a similar self-service concept. So we took this idea and paired it with the beer distribution system being installed – on a much larger scale – at O2 Arena.
The first system was developed for our pilot project in Plzeň in 2005, and it took about a year to fine-tune all the technology. After that, we spent time developing a more user-friendly information system that customers could play around with. In the end, we decided on a button that they’d press [to place orders]. That was one of the earliest functions because we didn’t want customers to have to wait for a bartender.
Later on, more and more functions were added to the system. So now you can choose the language for displaying communications, and you can order food. You can even set up a virtual account so the computer will only serve the number of beers you plan to drink. Another function protects our customers’ privacy by letting them opt out of the drinking competition that we host. It’s a contest run across the entire network, where the volume of beer tapped at tables in all our outlets appears on a large screen.
Right now we’re also developing a function that would allow people to choose songs to be played in the bar. It’d work like a jukebox.
Why did you think that this particular idea would work?
MŠ: We were counting on the fact that Czech people love beer. We knew that they liked high-quality beer, and that they liked to have fun. And we knew they were competitive. So those were our basic pillars. There are definitely other countries where this concept would work, but I think that it’s ideal for Czechs because they really are the biggest beer drinkers in the world.
JS: I think that one of the main reasons for our success was that this was a complete innovation in the business. There were thousands of restaurants and bars without any specific concept, and this was something brand new.
So are all of the branches outside Plzeň franchises?
JS: Our company owns three of the 10 branches: two in Plzeň and one in Prague. The other seven are franchises.
Our current focus is on taking our idea to Germany. We want to install a pilot project in Berlin by the end of the year.
This is another level of cooperation called master franchising. We’re working with a company that would run the German headquarters and act as the main distributor in. We’d be the general supplier of all the technology, and the German company would bring the concept to the other local franchises. It would be the master franchisee.
How’s business generally?
[They both laugh.]
JS: It’s the crisis!
MŠ: Seriously, it used to be a bit better before all these problems. Our business doesn’t try to satisfy people’s basic needs. We provide venues for fun and social life, and they’re spending less on those things right now. From one point of view, it’s good for our business. Maybe some bars and restaurants won’t survive, and this will clean out the industry. At the moment, I’d say the market’s overcrowded. It would be good if the crisis led to an improved business environment and more high-quality operations.
So do you think that your bar’s distinguishing feature is helping?
JS: I think that it’s serving us well at the moment. What we offer is completely different from what others provide. So, it’s a decent advantage.
Are we successful? Well, we’re happy that customers like our concept. They come and stay, and then they return. We also note our success in the fact that many people want to run their own. This is a key sign of success. The other big sign is in the figures, and somehow, I think, we’re doing pretty well.