TMS Media team helps raise profile of Norwich Inns buying group

A buying group which began with a meeting between two pub landlords more than 30 years ago has grown to support scores of inns, hotels and leisure outlets with a combined buying power of more than £5m.

Norwich Inns was hatched in 1982 in a bid to get a better deal for soft drink prices at a time when most pubs were tied to brewery deals.

But it has grown to cover a wider range of drinks from wines and spirits to cola and Champagne.

And its customers, and their stories, are now appearing in a new magazine, Innscribe, produced by Great Yarmouth-based company TMS Media, which has also designed a new website for the group.  

Norwich Inns now has 50 members with more than 60 outlets within a 35-mile radius of Norwich, mainly in Norfolk but also edging into Suffolk. They range from local pubs to major hotels and golf clubs and even a railway station.

The pioneers back in 1982 were long-standing Norwich licensees Roger Cawdron and Mike Lorenz, who currently run the Ribs of Beef and Whalebone. They met to discuss forming one of the first buying groups of its kind in the country by pooling their buying power.

At the time the founder members were tied to Norwich Brewery for all purchases apart from soft drinks. The first Norwich Inns agreement was with Coca Cola Schweppes' Norwich depot and was a ground-breaking arrangement.

The biggest break came when tenants of the big six brewery tied pubs were allowed one ‘guest beer’ under The Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order of 1989. This enabled the group to widen its membership, and after some negotiation the William Younger Brewery won the tender and members of Norwich Inns enjoyed a “foreign” beer - Theakston’s Best - on their bars.

Roger Cawdron said the original idea of forming a buying group came out of a Sunday lunch discussion discussion with his father-in-law who was part of an electrical buying group.

"I thought the same principle could be applied to the licensed trade. After meeting Mike Lorenz Norwich Inns was born and we never looked back.”

Mr Cawdron added: “I never thought that it would grow to be one of the largest groups of its type in the region.”

As well as enabling members to compete with the “big boys” they had also forged many life-long friendships.

Mike Lorenz added that the original idea, at a time when most licensees were tied to one of the major breweries, was “exciting and pro-active”.

He said: “The thought that the group would grow to around £5 million of collective purchasing power was probably not on the radar in the beginning but we knew it was innovative and it was the way forward.”

Current Norwich Inns secretary Craig McLaren said: “The group started from small beginnings, but is now a powerful tool helping many hospitality businesses reduce their costs, while pursuing our joint aim of providing the best customer service."

Norwich Inns also has a social and charity side. Social gatherings are well attended a couple of times a year. And members annually vote for a deserving charity and have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for local causes.

This year it is Norwich-based It's On The Ball which promotes testicular cancer checks among young men and supports patients.

Member brewery Norfolk Brewhouse at Hindringham has made a special ale Tobi's Tipple to raise funds and awareness of the cause.

Picture captions:

Norwich Inns secretary Craig McLaren with the new Innscribe magazine

Norwich Inns founders Mike Lorenz and Roger Cawdron

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