Nightclubs are in decline in Lancashire but club owners in Preston say party-goers still want Saturday night fever

A K-Pop club night at EvoqueA K-Pop club night at Evoque
A K-Pop club night at Evoque
The numbers of nightclubs in Lancashire are dwindling but club owners in Preston say that there is still demand for night fever in the city.

Data reveals that the quantity of nightclubs in the red rose county dropped by 19 per cent in five years.

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That is according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures which say that there were 175 licensed clubs in Lancashire in 2018, down from 215 in 2013.

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Industry experts say the night-time economy is under pressure as cheap alcohol prices in supermarkets have encouraged drinking at home.

But the declining numbers of clubs revealed by the ONS also include any social and working men’s clubs that are licensed to sell alcohol.

And club owners in Preston, though there are only a handful in the city, say that they are not being hit with declining custom at all - in fact the opposite.

Lee Johnson, deputy manager at Switch nightclub in Market Street, told the Post that there is a lot of competition, but success is about keeping on your toes as a business.

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“It’s like running any business, you’ve got to keep ahead of the trend,” he said.

“Switch isn’t a huge club but we have really got that relationship with our customers. There’s something on our Facebook page everyday for them.

“We reward our customers, so for example we might welcome them to Switch with a free drink and on a third visit they get free entry and a free drink.

“We appreciate it’s cheaper to stay at home because you’ve not got the hassle of a taxi. It can really add up to the cost of a night out.

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“So we have drinks promotions and a guest list. It’s about giving customers more choice because they don’t need to come to you. Another key is we focus on is the customer service element.

“We want people to feel that they’ve had a great experience and that comes down to our door staff and bar staff.

“People do go out later. Clubbing is very much a really late night experience. We open at 10.30pm and sometimes unless we have an early offer on you don’t start picking up until midnight.

“There’s so much choice and there’s also themed bars opening - gin and Prosecco bars. People might want something more intimate, there are sports bars and Peaky Blinders bars. It’s understanding your demographic. It’s not a case of being everything for everyone.

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“We track everything. We know every hour what we have taken and we have found an increase.

“We’ve been open 18 months and now to still be increasing on these numbers, we must be doing something right.”

Evoque, another popular club in the city centre in Church Street, says that although it faces challenges in the current market it is finding that when clubbers do head for the dance floor they are spending more.

A spokesman said: “There are many reasons that our town centres are facing challenges and we need to work collaboratively to build a healthy and thriving late night sector in Lancashire.

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“Investment is critical, and Evoque is a great example of where we have invested in the venue, giving people that big night out experience. Also, our evidence shows that when people are going out they are spending more.”

Preston Business Improvement District and its parent organisation the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce argue that the challenges nightclubs face comes down to the variety of choice on offer in Preston for an evening out on the town.

Alan Welsh, policy manager of the Commerce, said: “Preston has a vibrant night time economy and is one of the safest places in the region to enjoy a night out.

“The figures would suggest that nightclubs in Lancashire are suffering as a result of an economic downturn but we think it’s more about people’s choices.

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“Social media has changed the way people interact and has made it far easier for people to socialise and meet new partners without getting involved in the nightclub scene.

“That, plus competition from pubs and bars with late licenses, means that nightclubs are under pressure and club owners are having to think very carefully about pricing strategies and the overall leisure experience that they offer.

“Preston BID is continually working with pubs and clubs to boost trade and put on events in that people will attract people in to the city.

“We are also working hard with our partners to maintain the city’s Purple Flag status, which recognises Preston as a place that offers people an entertaining, diverse, safe and enjoyable night.”

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But more nightclubs may go, warns market research group IbisWorld, as companies focus their efforts on expansion in other industries.

Ashley Johnson, industry analyst at IbisWorld, said: “Many consumers purchase cheap supermarket alcohol to drink before going out rather than buying more expensive drinks in clubs, constraining industry revenue.

“Efforts to revive alcohol sales by offering cut-price drinks have been unable to fully compensate for this fall.”

A recent IbisWorld report highlights that licensing changes in 2005 have allowed pubs and bars to stay open later, taking nightclub customers. Across England, the number has fallen by 16 per cent since 2013.

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Martin McTague, policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “A major issue for this industry are the sheer number of burdensome regulations that are adding huge costs to businesses.

“The night-time economy is worth billions to the UK, but firms are being faced with strict licensing laws, rising insurance costs, ever-increasing business rates on top of burgeoning employment costs and other liabilities.”