I’m not sure you’ve heard of Gert Neyr.
He’s lives is a small town in Holland famed for it’s bars.
In addition to a burgeoning local drinking economy, it’s also a tourist destination - with quaint streets and plethora of bars creating a strong pull for weekend revellers.
There are around 30 bars and taverns in the town and while competition is healthy, the rivalry has a community feel. Although business can be seasonal, there’s generally enough business for everyone and bar owners have to work hard to keep their ideas fresh to provide an appealing mix of alcohol and atmosphere.
Gert spends most of his evenings in the town’s bars, his ruddy complexion providing a clue to his unusual role.
He’ll walk in to a bar and sit down, observing the drinkers and looking for new people to befriend. Once he’s identified a table, he’ll go over an introduce himself.
“Hi, I’m Gert. I’m the local bar expert and I can help you find the very best bars in town…." It transpires that in exchange for a drink, Gert will sit with you and tell you everything you need to know about the bars in town - which have the best beer, wine, spirits, music and ambience.
He knows everything and everyone in the town's bar scene.
He’s also keen to listen and asks searching questions. He’ll ask you what you’re looking for, what you like in a bar, what the bars are like where you come from - what they sell and the things they do differently. And he’ll ask you about your favourite bars in the world - why they’re cool and what they do differently.
He’s a convivial kind of guy and drinkers are happy to pay for a drink or two in exchange for the insight.
Once his glass is empty, he disappears and moves on to the next table or bar.
At 11pm Gert changes. He moves on to spirits and bar owners.
He talks to bar owners about the people he’s spoken to and where he’s told them to go that night. And, in exchange for a large whiskey or vodka he’ll tell them what he told them.
He’ll explain what travellers from different places are looking for and why other bars are more appealing than theirs. The bar owners are happy to trade a free drink for the insight. Plus, they're happy to brief Gert on what they’re planning to do next - events, guest beers and market test bolder ideas for their bars.
But despite being able to drink 10 beers and 2 doubles every night for free, Gert also needs money for food and rent.
So he writes too. He writes a column in the local weekly paper on the bar scene. And he guest blogs for a number of travel websites for cash.
Once a year he publishes a pocket guide on the town’s drinking scene which he sells in local shops for €10. It summarises his weekly findings into a 60 page compendium of bars. And of course some bars pays to advertise - Gert cleverly offers only 10 advertising spots so he can run a literal Dutch auction.
Gert’s impact on the local drinking scene is more than noticeable. He’s an influencer and people listen.
A number bars in the town converted to Gin Parlours because Gert predicted a shift towards Gin drinking based on customer conversations.
One bar started selling gourmet hotdogs because Gert had heard that it was a big thing in London and convinced the bar owner that it was the next big thing in town.
One bar owner even installed a shower block and cycle shed with lockers because Gert had heard how a group of cyclists would quite like to shower at the end of their long ride and how this would be a deciding factor in choosing a bar for them. Of course, the owner most eager for an edge listened and obliged. His bar went out of business last year as the gamble didn’t pay off.
It’s not a question of whether Gert’s opinions and predictions are right or wrong though. Most of the predictions in Gert’s annual pocket guide and weekly columns become reality by default.
He convinces bar owners what customers are asking for and he tells customers how bar owners are planning exciting new things, creating an expectation. He fuels a self fulfilling cycle of change and progression - even if the purported direction is skewed by his own views.
Gert has created a mobius strip that sits between demand and supply, dispensing free drinks and cash in an infinite loop.
Some locals think Gert is an opportunist. Some think he’s an authority. Others see him as a charlatan - paid to tell truths that he’s elicited and contorted to his own ends.
But he’s not real.
I made him up.
The real Gert Neyr works in the IT industry.
Doing pretty much the same job.