The Name: Curzon Cinemas
The Place: Most people think of it as a London-based chain which is not unreasonable with six venues in the capital (including the very-soon-to-open Victoria, SW1 unit) but actually it would really like to show films and sell beer to the rest of the population too so after Stafford, Knutsford and Ripon expect other provincial cinemas to arrive soon.
The story: You know what, this is a vintage brand. The old dame of a cinema in Mayfair, for example, with its royal boxes in Screen One has been entertaining Londoners since the 1930s and the clientele are as well-heeled as you would expect them to be. But behind the plush red velvet of this old name there is a retail beast waiting to pounce. Or something.
Umm… Waiting to pounce on an unexpecting film goer? Yup. Or even someone who does not even want to see a film at all. If you go to the HMV Curzon in Wimbledon there is a large selection of films on sale in the cinema area, and people go there just to buy them. If you go to the venue in Ripon then prepare to find yourself in a hustle bustle winebar which also shows films. What I’m saying is… there is more to a cinema than films if you are a clever retailer.
You are so right, there is also popcorn: Now, I am glad that you have brought that up. The Curzon isn’t the brand one most associates with a super-size box of sweet, followed by salt, ending with sweet popcorn…
Hey, how did you know that’s my favourite combo? Never mind. But when they trialled up market, premium bagged popcorn the peasants began revolting. It’s heated popcorn or nothing so the company is researching posh hot popcorn as we speak.
I’m very glad to hear it. How else are they pulling the punters in? It’s all in the eats, pal. At the Shaftesbury Avenue cinema as much as 30% of the turnover is from non-film goers eating and drinking – it’s the best performing retail outlet of the whole bunch. And that is what they want to be replicating across the board says Bradley Lomas, group food & beverage manager at Curzon.
And you don’t need one of those at Cineworld do you? You do not. But if for example you wandered into a post work showing at 6.15pm what are your dinner options for the next three hours? A large coke and a bag of fruit pastilles. Who wants that?
Well, you know on the right day... No-one in their right mind obviously. So Curzon is developing sharing boards of proper food to eat, and they are on a total mission to source local drinks and food to use in their places. They want bums on café bar seats as much as on cinema seats.
Local drinks – really? The list of regional beers available in Curzon cinemas reads like a CAMRA manual. In Ripon you will be buying Black Sheep bitter, in Knutsford the ale will be from Tattons Brewery, in London you drink Greenwich-based Meantime Brewery beer. There is even talk of an own brand – a Curzon Pale Ale.
Cosmic. And if you come without a beard? So behind the times as always. But just for argument’s sake then, say, the chocolate brownies in the Soho branch are delivered fresh on a bicycle every day from The Little Bread Peddlar and people come especially for them. Fudge sticks from Fudge Kitchen – a classic impulse buy. Average spend at the moment is around the £6.55 mark.
That’s a lot of fudge sticks. Can I be vulgar and talk about money? They aren’t the cheapest cinemas are they? No. But they offer something that no 20-screen multiplex can and an increasing number of people will pay good English pounds for that. And between you and me the price differential is actually quite small. Curzon’s real competitors are people like The Everyman or Picturehouse and they open in small outlets which are in the centre of communities, not in out of town super-malls. Ripon has not had a cinema for 35 years and now suddenly you have a grown up winebar with a Soho-feel to it and a screen which will show sold-out National Theatre productions or host documentary weekends or screen tiny independent releases which your average big chain manager will never have heard of.
Alright, calm down. What else is new? An expansion programme to come outside the metropolis (possibly 20 sites in the next five years) and a significant revamp within it (the Fat Duck restaurant’s designer will be casting his eye over the Renoir in Bloomsbury for example) and featuring the new ‘we dare you to come in here and only watch a film’ branch opening in Victoria in May. The Curzon chain is pretty much unique in the way it retails food and drink at the pictures and I have not even got on to the other parts of the business which link to the cinema core.
Well, get on to it then, we’re running out of time: Sorry. OK, introducing Philip Knatchbull, who was in private equity and is now the proud owner of Curzon. He has spent five years buying the separate parts of the current group and solidifying the whole. First we have the home streaming service which means viewers can see films in their own homes on the same day they are released in the cinema -available in two million households by the end of the year. Then there is the distribution label side of things which is going very nicely thank you and finally Curzon Film World which produces films – the first one was released last Autumn.
Phew. Film from all angles then: Indeed. What’s not to like – popcorn and pale ale and no one talking through the whole film.
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