LES lAYLESS Interview

Interview by Cosmo Souve-Smith

LES, 52, MANAGER AT BETGREG IN BOW, EAST LONDON, TELLS US ABOUT BIG BARRY’S TOILET HABITS, HOW TECHNOLOGY KILLED THE OLD DAYS, AND THE UNSEEN CONSEQUENCES OF THE SMOKING BAN.

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How have you seen your business change over the last 10 years?

There’s a big lack of community these days. Before all the lads had to be in the actual shop if they wanted to lay a bet. Come rain or shine they’d be down here before the games. Doesn’t matter where they’d woken up, whether that be the hospital, the job centre or if they woke up in a bin, the whole gang was here. It was a gorgeous sight, everyone huddled together for warmth, sharing round the 3 cans of special brew they chipped in together for. Sharing fags out the front whilst eyeing up the sixth-form girls on their lunch break. Honestly, thinking about how good it used to be gets me quite emotional.

How has technology impacted the traditional side of your business?

Well now they just do it all on their phones. It’s so easy now: You can be waiting on your microwave lasagne to cook and chuck a quid on the Brentford game. People don’t need to build their schedule around being in the shop. It’s a travesty. Some days now it’s just me and Big Barry in the shop for hours at a time. And he only comes in to take a shit mostly. His wife thinks he’s got a gambling problem; I think he’s got a shitting problem. He’s in there for ages. God knows what he’s doing.

What trends have you observed in 2019/20?

Trends? I see more people drinking Koppaberg cider in the shop now. Obviously it’s “no drinks policy” in here but there’s always a few spent cans in the khazi. But now bottles of pink fruity cider are popping up. I’ve asked Barry about it but he’s allergic to fruit so it’s not him.

PEOPLE WILL MISS US WHEN WE’RE GONE. WHERE ELSE CAN YOU COME IN OUT THE COLD, PUT A BET ON, WATCH THE GAMES FOR FREE, USE THE TOILET AND CATCH UP WITH THE GANG OVER SOME WARM CANS OF SUPER STRENGTH BEER IN THE AWNING?

In terms of gambling? The machines are a cash cow. Thing is, the punters don’t get the same rollercoaster of emotion with the machines like they do with sports. It’s just insane raw crushing defeat over and over. After 20 minutes on them most people are down at least a ton and then they’re not in the mood to hear about what I’m having for tea. They just walk off in a daze.

What technology are you excited about implementing to your core offering?

I’d like to get a bread maker in the staffroom as I’ve always fancied myself as a baker!!

Maybe also upgrading the strength of the glass at the counter would be a good move as people bang on it quite often and they’re starting to realise I lied when I said it was bulletproof. It’s literally just plastic.

What do the bookies of the future look like?

To be honest I’m not sure we’ll have betting shops in 10 years. Young people rarely come in and unless they start implementing palliative care actually in shops for our current customers I can’t see us being able to survive much longer. People will miss us when we’re gone. Where else can you come in out the cold, put a bet on, watch the games for free, use the toilet and catch up with the gang over some warm cans of super strength beer in the awning? We’re like a family in here. Albeit one that looks like it needs medical attention.

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Can you think of another time when innovation had a negative impact on your industry?

The smoking ban was brutal for us. Some of the lads only came in here for the secondhand smoke. We haven’t seen a lot of them since to be honest. Now they just huddle downwind from whatever soul they spot smoking. They just stand a few metres downwind, sucking in air.

What worries you at night?

I saw a rat the size of a cat outside my flat a few months back. Ravi downstairs told me he’s seen it fight a fox so now I tend to run up and down my pathway when I’m going in and out the building. Sometimes I worry it will learn how to shimmy up the drainpipe like what coconut hunters do on palm trees. So I sleep with my window closed now.

Where have you been able to positively impact revenue targets/sales with innovative thinking?

It’s not really on us to come up with new ways to make more money. My role is really look after the gang. Give them hot tea on cold days or arrange to have the toilet seat screwed back on regularly. Honestly Big Barry is a toilet’s worst enemy! What’s he doing in there? (Laughs). It’s like he does the hokey-cokey every time he curls one out.