Willownomics

Image: Lucy Dixon

Image: Lucy Dixon

Love it or hate it, Willow is a quintessential part of a typical York student’s life. You are bound to mention it when a good night out is looked back upon, and for many, is where the night reaches its climax and ends.

Willow, the former Chinese restaurant, seems to have thrived and managed to become a continued leader in its field despite the competition and challenges it faces, especially in the face of rising tuition fees and increasingly restrictive student budgets.

It confounds normal business sense coupled with poor or non-existent customer service, low quality and limited products with awful infrastructure and a severe lack in ‘R&D’. Yet, Willow continues to steadily plough on.

So what makes Willow the cash cow it presently is? Every successful business has its edge, a unique selling point. Willow’s is simple – cheap entry, affordable drinks and a promise of few restrictions catered especially for students. Throw in a prime location on Coney Street, in the middle of town, and you have the recipe for success bubbling away. It is also simple and straightforward – a promise of a good night out with your mates, with cheesy music, for a decent cost.

It is also consistent, in everything from the questionable hygiene of the toilets to the expression of Konrad the bouncer’s face at the door.

From a business point of view, Willow’s branding and identity is perhaps unrivalled in its industry. The brand is memorable, easily associated and identifiable with. Willow has a distinct marketing advantage through word of mouth, its merchandise such as T-shirts bearing its logo and well known staff. Students can be spotted wearing Willow t-shirts to the gym, to play sports, with some even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in them.

Tommy Fong, the owner, and Konrad are easy to identify, and are almost the mascots and faces of Willow, in some cases having photos taken of them and with them. All these come at little or no cost to the business, and that probably is the best form of marketing one could ask for.

The costs Willow faces are also much lower than others in the same field. Unlike other nightclub establishments in York, Willow is one of the few that operates from just one shop level. This simply means that it pays less rent, ultimately resulting in lower fixed costs. Its lack of investment and upkeep of infrastructure also means that it spends less than its competitors.

Lest we forget, Willow is a monopoly – well, almost. Think Major League Baseball or Microsoft (to a slightly lesser extent). Willow is the unanimous choice for York student party goers every night from 1am – 4am.

What does the future hold for Willow? Until those sticky walls and wonky stairs finally give way, or the club loses its license, it is hard to imagine student night outs without the great nights in Willow. Love it or hate it, it seems our beloved Willow is here to stay.

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