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Thu 5th Sep 2013 - Business rates, Nando’s, Prezzo, Spirit and JD Wetherspoon

Story of the day:

British Property Foundation - we’re paying far too much in business rates: The British Property Federation (BPF) has backed veteran retailer Bill Grimsey’s call for a “root and branch” review of business rates, as analysis of European Union data revealed the UK pays the highest business rates of any country in Europe, and more than France and Germany combined. The BPF’s analysis of EU data shows that, as a proportion of GDP, UK business rates are more than three times those in France, and more than five times those in Germany. In cash terms, the UK Exchequer generated nearly €35bn from business rates in 2010, more than France (€15bn) and Germany (€12.5bn) together. The analysis also shows France takes the equivalent of 2.3% of its GDP in “recurrent” property taxes (business rates and council tax). However, separate data reveals that only 23% of this comes from non-domestic property (equivalent to 0.5% of France’s GDP); Germany takes the equivalent of 0.5% of its GDP in recurrent taxes, with 60% of this classified as non-domestic (0.3% of GDP); The UK’s income from recurrent taxes is by far the highest in Europe at 3.4% of GDP, with business rates accounting for nearly half of this (1.6% of GDP). Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “The government makes a great play of claiming that it wants to create an internationally competitive tax system while at the same time hamstringing the nation’s businesses with the highest rates bills in Europe – bills that are ratcheted up with inflation each year regardless of wider economic conditions.”

Industry news:

Luke Johnson – risk-takers cut corners and learn from the experience: Sector investor Luke Johnson has argued that entrepreneurs often cut corners and engage in slightly dubious projects when they start out – and learn from the experience. In his Management Today column, he writes: “It is the nature of risk-takers to be in a ferocious hurry to become successful – which frequently means cutting corners. Thirty years ago this summer, I ran a quasi-legal, all-night rave every Saturday on Fulham Wharf. On busy nights, we had 1,000 punters dancing till dawn, and charged £5 a head. We were never busted by the police, but the landlord eventually realised what was going on and served me with a writ to close immediately. It was a formative experience. It should have been fun, but I think I was so anxious to prevent a fire or fights or about the takings being stolen that I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I might have. I’m not excusing bad behaviour. I suppose entrepreneurs are engaged in circumventing the rules and taking the contrarian position. Sometimes this involves grey areas. Government, big business, apathy and entrenched competition mean launching a start-up is always a precarious undertaking. Doing everything exactly by the book with minimal resources is a fantasy. And without such endeavours there would be less job creation, innovation and tax collected. There is a need for a book or website consisting of war stories from established business owners called My First Big Break. And the most interesting bits will be the descriptions of fly-by-night projects – and what was learned from them.”

Journalist launches street food app: Journalist Richard Johnson has launched a free British Street Food app showcasing the best street food in the country. Johnson is the founder of the British Street Food Awards and author of the best-selling book Street Food Revolution, and writes a street food column in The Guardian. The app features live GPS maps showing who is trading where and when. The information can be updated daily (by traders checking in) so that it will be as topical as possible. It details all the top traders in Britain, and their daily specials, with special in-app offers. It will also carry details of the hottest new traders hitting the streets and it encourages customers to photograph, rate and review their food.

Taco Bell turns around fortunes with new product line: Taco Bell has turned its fortunes around in the US with a blockbuster new product lie. It posted an 8% increase in sales in 2012 after the most successful product launch in the company’s 50-year history. It took three years and 45 prototypes to launch Doritos Locos Tacos, which sold 100 million in the product’s first ten weeks. In March of this year, Taco Bell rolled out Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos and, in August, Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos. Taco Bell has sold more than 600 million of the original and Cool Ranch tacos in the US since the introduction nearly a year and a half ago. Sales growth has been supported by a focus on social media and marketing messages that stressed the “experience” of visiting Taco Bell.

Just ten businesses accept interest rate swap compensation: Banks have paid out just £500,000 of compensation so far out of a potential £2.5bn compensation bill to businesses that were mis-sold interest rate swap products. A total of ten businesses have accepted compensation to date. So far, 30,169 products have been reviewed by nine banks, of which half have been deemed eligible to take part in the compensation process. The banks have 2,800 staff working on the review process and the Financial Conduct Authority reported that many more businesses would have compensation offers before the end of the year.

Company news:

Spirit’s Fayre & Square introduces improved value offering: Fayre & Square, the 157 strong family pub brand owned by Spirit Pub Company, has launched its Autumn menu with new deals across its food and drinks range. The menu, which launched on Tuesday (3 September), features new dish additions such as the All American Hotdog, Double Chicken Waffle Burger and Onion Ring Stacker, as well as a new Tea To Share For £10 offer. The offer is available weekdays between 3.30pm and 5.30pm and has been launched to fulfil the after school period when parents are looking for a quick and easy option to feed the family. Guests can choose from three sharing dishes; pasta Bolognese with salad and garlic bread, burgers and hotdogs with onion rings and skinny fries, or New York style chicken and bacon pizza with salad and wedges. Alongside the Tea To Share deal, Fayre & Square has expanded its ‘two for’ deal to its drinks range with a number of alcoholic drinks, including Carling, Strongbow or Fosters and a variety of spirits, offered on a two for £5 basis. Helen Wallace, brand manager for Fayre & Square, said: “In terms of delivering great overall value, we believe we are leading the market – our two for deals resonate well with our target audience and have become a staple for the Fayre & Square brand following the introduction of the two for £5 on starters and desserts earlier this year.”

Jonathan Kaye – Cleaver is “going well”: Prezzo chief executive Jonathan Kaye has reported that the company’s new brand Cleaver is “going well”. He told Propel: “With a new concept there is no such things as target [for sales].” The company is planning three more openings with one a conversion of an existing Prezzo site. Takings at the first site in Cobham, Surrey are higher than the average for the company’s Prezzo and Chimichanga brands, but Kaye said that was to be expected given that the rent on the Cobham site is higher than average for the other two brands. Asked about whether new Cleaver openings would replicate Cobham, Kaye said: “We never do template design and they will look slightly different, but the starting point will recreating Cobham.” The company’s opening programme in 2013 is back-loaded, with six Chimichangas and 15 Prezzos planned for the second half of 2013.

Bus-based pub tour worth £300,000 a year: A bus-based “real ale” pub tour that takes more than 2,000 people to the doors of small rural pubs has been praised for bringing £300,000 a year to the economy of Flintshire in North Wales. The ale trail was created by Flintshire Tourism Association four years ago, and takes in ten pubs in the Flintshire countryside, allowing drinkers to sample a huge range of real ales in different venues without having to worry about who was driving. Local MP David Hanson, unveiling a plaque to the scheme at The Oak in Hendre, said the Flintshire Ale Trail was a valued contributor to Flintshire’s rural economy. John Les Tomos, proprietor of The Oak, said: “It’s a wonderful event and I hope it can inspire other rural villages to take up a similar activity for their community.” The next Ale Trail is this Saturday, 7 September, with buses running every 30 minutes from 11am to 11pm, starting from the Wetherspoon-owned Gold Cape in Mold. Tickets are sold from participating pubs and can be bought for £7.50 in advance or £10 on the day.

Nando’s face criticism over Leeds medical centre plan: Plans to build a Nando’s restaurant in the same building as a medical centre have been criticised by a councillor. The chain has applied to Leeds City Council to open a branch in St Michael’s Court, Headingley, next to the Headingley Medical Centre. Ward councillor Martin Hamilton said the plan left a “bitter taste in the mouth”. A Nando’s spokesperson, however, said feedback from the public earlier this year had been “mainly positive”.

Wayne Brown – we recommend buying Prezzo shares: Canaccord Genuity analyst Wayne Brown has issued a “Buy” note on Prezzo shares and set a price target of 140p on the shares. He said: “There were only seven (2012: 12) new openings in the half but with a further six having opened in Q3 this leaves 17 sites to open by the year end. Provided the group can open the majority of these before mid-November, they will contribute positively towards FY2013E numbers, leaving even greater room for upgrades in our view. The group is not exposed to any energy inflation (locked into medium term contracts) and is seeing c2-3% food cost inflation. This suggests that Prezzo requires around 4-5% sales growth to offset these pressures which leaves significant headroom and firepower on promotions, marketing and discounting. Considering the strong first half performance, we feel forecast risk is firmly on the upside but we leave these unchanged for now. The current market cap places a value of circa £1.3m per restaurant versus an average circa £600k-700k/site fit-out cost. A multiple of c2x is not excessive for a business that has achieved a very consistent rate of returns with a five-year CFROA of 9.0% and cash payback period around five years. We set our new target price at 140p.”

Giggling Squid founder ‘not surprised’ Koh-Thai Tapas trademark bid failed: Giggling Squid founder Andy Laurillard has broken his silence over the dispute with rival Thai chain Koh-Thai Tapas over the use of the term Thai Tapas, which Koh tried to trademark - and threatened legal action over its use by Giggling Squid. Laurillard said: “We had Thai Tapas on the shop front in Brighton for years before rebranding as Giggling Squid. Google had even called us “Thai Tapas Restaurant” for a while. So we were a bit surprised when they called in the lawyers to defend something they didn’t own. It’s a nice enough phrase, but lots of people are using this now. I was never convinced it worked that hard though – it wasn’t until we rebranded to Giggling Squid that we saw the uplift. It was never going to be easy to register anyway as its highly generic, so we didn’t bother trying. Koh obviously thought it was pretty important –’highly damaging to our business goodwill, passing off’, et cetera. Shame it didn’t work out for them.”

JD Wetherspoon pledges to help regenerate Tiverton and Bedford town centres: JD Wetherspoon has pledged to support a new initiative called High Street Champions which will see the company matched to a town centre in need of regeneration. Wetherspoon will undertake work in Tiverton and Bedford, with the aim of bringing its business expertise and skills to support. The campaign is organised by the charity Business in the Community, which works with businesses to “build resilient communities, diverse workplaces and a more sustainable future”. Wetherspoon’s pub managers in Tiverton and Bedford will work with the company’s senior head-office management to provide focused support for the towns. Business in the Community’s chief executive, Stephen Howard, said: “With one in ten shops empty on UK high streets, and depressed footfall in many towns and city centres, High Street Champions has been devised in response to the urgent need to transform the town centres. Successful high streets require collaboration between the community, local authority and local business leaders – no one group holds the solutions and it is only through working together and thinking innovatively that we will see the change so desperately needed. We are delighted that Wetherspoon is backing this important initiative.” Wetherspoon’s head of personnel and customer services, Caroline Walters, said: “Wetherspoon is committed to the high street and pleased to be involved with this campaign. Each year, we invest more than £45 million in new pubs, primarily on the high street, creating more than 1,500 jobs. The high streets are vital to their respective communities and it’s important that we continue to look at ways of regenerating high streets across the UK.”

Stonegate lines up refurbishment for revived Crosby pub: Stonegate Pub Company is refurbish the Albert Hotel on Lark Lane, Aigburth, Crosby after its manager revived trade. Manager Stephen Cliff, who only took over five months ago, told the local newspaper: “The pub was definitely on the slide but I’ve kicked all the undesirables out. I live above the pub with my girlfriend and baby son and if people disrespect it then they’re not going to come into my house. But now we are taking more money and my bosses [from the Stonegate Pub Company] are made up. It’s all about getting the right managers in the right pubs. The days of old couples running pubs have gone – big pub companies are now running them. It’s becoming more commercialised. Pubs need to be the hub of their communities and I think only the best will survive.”

Enterprise Inns signs up for mypeoplebiz recruitment platform: Enterprise Inns has signed up for the mypeoplebiz intelligent recruitment platform. Andy Holness, HR project manager at Enterprise, said: “Our new recruitment website will enable us to manage all our recruitment requirements from one place, increasing the proportion of application from direct candidates and creating talent databases for each of our functions. We will also be able to fully utilise social media and tailor our recruitment approach for each role. In the short time since the launch, we are already seeing an increase in application numbers and our talent pools are growing.”

Freehold of JD Wetherspoon pub sells for £8.4m: The freehold of a pub let to JD Wetherspoon has sold for £8.4m to AXA Real estate. The 12,000 square feet building on Charing Cross Road in central London is occupied by the Montagu Pyke pub and Wetherspoon pays £380,000 per annum in rent on a 21-year lease. The buyer obtains a 4.4% yield on its investment.

Loungers reports like-for-likes up 7.9% in the first four month of its new financial year: Loungers, the café bar concept led by Alex Reilley and Jake Bishop, has reported like-for-like sales are up 7.9% in the first four months of its financial starting on 1 May. Total net sales for the same period have shown an increase of 62.5% to £10.15m. Reilley reported that average weekly sales at the groups last nine new openings were 46% higher than the rest of the group. Reilley said: “Like-for-like sales remain strong and the business is obviously experiencing some serious year-on-year growth as the roll-out gains momentum. However a significant contributing factor to the year-on-year growth has been the very strong performance of new openings”. Loungers will open its 38th site on Lark Lane in Aigburth, Liverpool on September 18th followed by openings in Heswall in October and Formby in November. It is understood the group intends to reach 55 sites by the end of 2014. 

Enterprise Inns puts famous war poet pub on the market for £850,000: Enterprise Inns has put the Rupert Brooke pub in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire up for sale for £850,000. Margaret Thatcher unveiled a statue to the poet in the gardens of Grantchester resident Jeffrey Archer. Chris Rogers, of agent Everard Cole, said: “We have had some interest. The pub can offer a very attractive location just two miles from Cambridge but in a rural setting. I think the name will certainly attract people who know the history behind it and the name really does make the pub stand out.”

Kent chefs take fourth pub: Kent chefs Gareth Finney and Dan Sidders have taken their fourth pub, a Shepherd Neame site in Canterbury. Casey’s on Butchery Lane is to change its name to the Shakespeare, a return to the inn’s former name, and be refreshed with a £180,000 investment. The money will be used to redecorate the exterior, create new signs, refurbish the interior and give the adjoining open-air courtyard a Victorian market feel. Finney and Sidders already operate the Parrot on Church Lane in Canterbury, Ye Olde Beverlie on St Stephens Green in Canterbury and the Albion Taverna in Faversham. George Barnes, property and tenanted trade director at Shepherd Neame, said: “Gareth and Dan are passionate about food and have created another imaginative food menu coupled with strong ale, wine and coffee.”

Admiral Taverns – we’ve sold your pub but it’s safe: Admiral Taverns has told ‘outraged’ Derbyshire villagers looking to buy one of its pubs that but has now been sold – but it’s safe. Residents in Bamford, in the Peak District, had raised £184,000 to turn the area’s last remaining pub, the Anglers’ Rest, into a community hub. They had registered the pub as an Asset of Community Value, a government scheme to protect community venues, and planned to meet the remainder of the £320,000 asking price with low-interest loans. Andy Clifford, property and strategy director at Admiral Taverns, said: “We have agreed to sell the Anglers Rest as a going concern to an individual who is committed to working with the community of Bamford to ensure the pub remains as a pub. We understand there will be some concerns about the future status of the pub and possible implications brought about by a sale. To this end we have made arrangements for representatives of the local community to meet with the purchaser to ease any concerns about the pub’s future. There was interest from a local group representing the community in purchasing the pub and we understand the frustration that some people will now feel, given that a sale has been agreed with another purchaser. We would like to make it clear that, for more than a year, we have engaged fully in discussions over a sale to this local group representing the community, and have given them the opportunity to buy the pub. We offered to exchange contracts on a sale of the Anglers’ Rest and to wait for up to 12 months to complete the transaction, which we felt was an accommodating and reasonable position but the group decided not to proceed on this basis. I would like to stress personally, and on behalf of the company, that the pub is not at risk. It is afforded protection under its asset-of-community-value status and has an incoming owner who is fully committed to preserving the pub for the local community.”

Partners eye chain of retro British cafes: The partners behind a new retro-British 1950s-style cafe featuring roast meat, stuffing and gravy alongside shakes and jacket potatoes have declared their desire to turn the concept into a chain. Natasha and Martin Bowman are turning their existing ice-cream parlour and sandwich bar in Carmarthen into a 1950s-style British diner from the end of this month. The diner’s décor will feature checked tablecloths, retro wall art and old paintings. Natasha said: “It’s going to be a bit old-fashioned with a mix of British. I’m going to dress in 1950s-style clothing to keep the theme going. We would like to have a chain of these. We do have big plans for it.”

Lapland theme park director banned for ten years: Victor Robert Mears, the director of Lapland New Forest Limited, a company that traded as a Lapland-style theme park from Matchams Leisure Park in the New Forest, has been disqualified from acting as a director for ten years for failing to maintain, preserve or deliver adequate accounting records. The disqualification, which was made at Brighton County Court and started on 17 July 2013, comes after an investigation by the Insolvency Service. It prevents Mr Mears from acting as a director of a limited company for ten years until July 2023. Lapland New Forest Limited went into voluntary liquidation in February 2009. The company had started ticket sales in September 2008 with the park opening to visitors on 29 November 2008. It was closed on 4 December 2008 after a number of issues. The Insolvency Service investigation found that between 3 September 2008 and 22 December 2008, £1,283,056 was received into the company bank account and £1,284,309 was paid out. However, Mears failed to provide adequate books and records to properly account for expenditure of £222,955.45 from the bank account. Much of this money was drawn from the bank account in cash amounts of £10,000, £15,000 and £20,000.

Ernst & Young’s Luminar administration earnings top £5m: Ernst & Young has now earned more than £5m from the administration of the UK’s largest nightclub company. In a report filed this week at Companies House Ernst & Young reported total earnings of £5,318,156 in the 22 months since administration. Meanwhile, Ernst & Young has set aside £300,000 to meet 19 personal injury claims it has received for the nine-week period it was running Luminar in administration prior to its sale in December 2011. The administrator’s insurance for the period means it has to pay an excess of £15,000 per claim, so it has now increased the sum set aside to meet payments by £100,000. There are another 78 personal injury claims totalling £764,000 that cover the pre-administration period that count as non-preferential claims. The administrator has collected £1,320,000 in rates refunds, an increase of £207,000 since it last reported and it has 50 appeals in process: its agent has claimed £220,000 in success fees. The new owners of Luminar have paid £32.6m for the company’s assets so far. A total of £3.7m of the sale consideration was contingent on the successful assignment of 46 leasehold sites. So far 28 sites have been assigned, crystallising £2.5m of the contingent sum. A further ten are being negotiated and eight have been vacated. An administrator’s report states: “We are in regular dialogue with the purchaser and understand they are making good progress in their negotiations with the majority of the remaining landlords. The uncollectable provision of £547,725 relates to eight sites where it has not been possible for the purchaser to obtain an assignment of the leases and one site where we have agreed a reduction in the consideration payable, accounting for contingent consideration of £490,650.” Ernst & Young said it expects to receive a further £642,600 in respect of contingent consideration. Ernst & Young made a profit of £416,000 in the period it was actually running the Luminar business. Secured creditors Barclays Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland were owed £112.4m at the time of administration – a “substantial shortfall” in expected. At the time of administration there were 59 companies in the Luminar structure. The administrator said: “We continue to work with the directors of these companies to rationalise the structure. A total of 30 companies have now been dissolved with a further 12 awaiting strike-off.”

ZaZa Bazaar takes 17,000 sq ft in Newcastle’s Gate: ZaZa Bazaar, whose Bristol “world buffet” restaurant is the biggest in the UK, has taken a lease on a 17,000 square foot unit in the Gate development in Newcastle upon Tyne. Hannah Milne, regional portfolio manager for the Crown Estate, which bought the Gate in 2012 for £60m, said: “This letting is a great example of our strategy to improve the overall quality of the offer at the Gate. ZaZa Bazaar provides a unique experience to customers as well as high-quality food, and will further broaden the Gate’s appeal to a wide range of visitors.” Nitin Bhatnagar, co-founder and director of food services at ZaZa Bazaar, said: “We are excited to be coming to the Gate, especially given the Crown Estate’s plans to enhance the centre’s reputation as the north e ast’s top food and entertainment destination. Our concept pushes the boundaries of dining, offering customers fantastic high quality food from around the world, cooked right in front of them giving an unforgettable experience.” The Bristol ZaZa Bazaar, which opened in 2011, boasts it can seat up to 1,000 diners, and its “eat till you drop” offer costs £12.99 for two hours weekday evenings, £15.99 weekends. Davis Coffer Lyons acted on behalf of the Crown Estate. Other tenants in The Gate include an outlet for the Handmade Burger Co, which opened this summer.

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