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Thu 22nd Jan 2015 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Yummy Pub Company reports ‘phenomenal trading’ at coffee operation, eyes two more sites: Yummy Pub Company has reported ‘phenomenal trading’ at its Southwark coffee shop operation, The Gentlemen Baristas, opened in partnership with Henry Ayres and Ed Parks. After 12 full weeks of trading the operation has tripled turnover and Yummy has had its initial capital investment repaid. Co-founder Tim Foster said: “There is a massive difference between working hard for somebody and really working hard for yourself – and the passion Henry and Ed have shown is incredible. The budget has been blown out of the water. We’re keeping the investment in to fund new openings – Henry and Ed are working on a pipeline. There is also massive upside for the pubs, transforming our coffee offer. We’re roasting our own coffee in Bristol and offering three blends within the pubs, using on-demand grinding machines. Next month, we will retro-fit branding and a takeaway offer with the pubs.” Yummy staff are voluntarily attending the coffee shop site each Wednesday to learn barista skills on an unpaid basis as a piece of self-development, said Foster. Meanwhile, Yummy is close to securing two more sites, with an ambitious plan to step-up the company’s involvement in training homeless youngsters in partnership with New Horizons at the second of these, a private lease. Foster said: “We plan to employ 12 homeless youngsters every nine months, offering them accommodation at the seventh site. The key issue for homeless youngsters living in hostels is fundamentally about the security of housing. We plan to train these dozen kids up over nine months, within the framework and security of a home environment. Over the course of 20 years, we could help an army of homeless youngsters find belief in themselves. The two new sites will most likely open within two or three weeks of one another, all down to planning consents and making sure we have the right deal in place for the project.” 

Industry News:

Roy Ellis and Simon Rimmer to present at Propel Multi Club Conference in March: Roy Ellis and celebrity chef Simon Rimmer are to present at the next Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday 12 March, held at the Lancaster Hotel, London. Roy Ellis, who founded Revolution vodka bar brand operator Inventive Leisure, and Rimmer will talk about the creation of two new brands, a new classic pub format and a US BBQ brand through their company Flying Pub & Lobster. Operators of multi-site companies can book up to two free places by emailing adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com
 
Insights firm NPD Group produces list of five key foodservice trends for 2015: Research and insights firm NPD Group has produced a list of the five key foodservice trends to watch out for in 2015. The list is: Goodbye blind loyalty – choice and innovation breeding increased promiscuity: Consumers increasingly spoilt for choice will demand more if they’re to stay loyal. Winners in 2015 will present attention-grabbing new food/drink items, backed up by enhanced customer experience, technology, and increased and differentiating marketing activity; Squeezed Middle – the new appetite is for clarity of offering, with value and/or premiumisation: Consumers will search out nimble operators with a clear ‘mission-oriented’ offering. Winners in 2015 will focus on efficient and creative price and menu architecture, providing value for money and the opportunity to premiumise or trade-up – communicating this clearly to consumers; Authenticity, freshness and transparency – communicating provenance and preparation: Consumers will be wary of ‘black box’ food, where preparation or provenance are hidden – consumers will want more transparency. Winners in 2015 will go back to basics, offering fresh and authentic quality ingredients, effectively communicating these attractive attributes to consumers, and opening up food prep areas where possible; Healthy indulgence – the new ‘treat’: Consumers will increasingly no longer view ‘treating’ as just meaning processed and unhealthy food. Winners in 2015 will offer their customers the opportunity to treat themselves with new tastes and flavours from a wider range of fresh, natural and healthy cuisines; Niche cuisine goes mainstream – ‘newness’ and street food over traditional fayre: Consumers will look for new tastes, flavours, and foods, especially in large urban areas. Winners in 2015 will recognise the strong growth of fast casual dining and street food as a clear sign that consumers are willing to experiment with non-traditional food – if presented well.
 
US government research – coffee wards off skin cancer: Research by the US government’s health research department has found a single cup of coffee could help ward off skin cancer. Four cups daily would be the most protective against malignant melanoma. The findings are based on a study of 450,000 men and women. Those who drank coffee – 90% of the group – were less likely to have the disease. The more they drank, the lower the odds, reported the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 
 
Irish pub in Forest Hill named as London’s best boozer: An Irish pub in Forest Hill has been named the best boozer in London. The Blythe Hill Tavern in Stanstead Road, impressed judges from the Society For The Preservation Of Beers From The Wood (SPBW) with its ‘wide range of fine beers, excellent hospitality and friendly service’. The pub is run by Cornelius ‘Con’ Riordan and serves a wide range of quality beers, its most popular being Dark Star Hophead bitter. Riordan, who is 55 and originally from Limerick in Ireland, set up the pub 27 years ago and has enjoyed local and far reaching success with customers.

UK consumers set to out-spend France on wine: British wine lovers are set to outspend their French counterparts as they develop a taste for more expensive bottles, the Financial Time has reported. Although people drank less after the financial crisis, between 2008 and 2014, the value of the UK wine market rose 15% to $16.1bn. Research by Vinexpo, a wine exhibition and forum, and the International Wine and Spirits Record forecasts UK consumption will reach $17.1bn by 2018, overtaking France as the world’s second-largest still wine market by value behind the US. Much of the growth has been driven by the rise in popularity of “premium” wines that cost from £7 to £14. “This is part of a wider trend of consumers drinking less, but when they do drink, some are looking for something a bit more special,” Chris Wisson, drinks analyst at Mintel, told the FT. Consumers in the UK have developed a particular taste for Italian wine in the past five years, pushing Italy ahead of France as the number two source of imports in 2013, behind Australia.

Company News:

Former Publico owner on pub acquisition trail: Entrepreneur Allan Harper, who owns the Burning Night Group with Alex Hazzard and sold the 56-strong Publico chain of pub for £21.5m to London and Edinburgh Pubs in 2005, has built a 15-strong portfolio of freehold pubs on a site-by-site basis over the past three years or so, Propel has learnt. Harper and Hazzard now operate six sites through a business called Cornercrack and the remainder of the freeholds sit in Harper’s pension fund. The pair operates 12 of the sites as managed pubs and three as tenanted. They are making substantial investments in pubs where they see transformational opportunities. A site in Bingley, Bradford, The Fleece, acquired for circa £170,000 from a tenanted pub company, will re-open as The Potting Shed, a nod to some ideas borrowed from The Botanist, after a £350,000 investment at the end of next month. A second pub in Pontefract, the Blackmoor Head, acquired from a private individual for circa £260,000 will re-open after a £220,000 investment, trading close to an Amber Taverns site. Harper said: “We have been buying pubs where there is a good-value opportunity, particularly unloved bottom-end pubs. We’re in the process of negotiating a new bank facility to acquire more.” Propel reported last week that Burning Night had secured consents to build its fourth Bierkeller unit, this time in Cardiff. Each of the existing three Bierkeller units sells 5,000 barrels of beer each per annum. 

Sushi and bento brand opens third site: Sushi and bento brand Kokoro has open in The Mall Camberley shopping centre, its third site. Taking the former spot of Costa Coffee near TK Maxx, the Japanese brand offers authentic hot food and sushi, all prepared freshly on site. The first restaurant opened in Kingston in 2010 and second in Guildford in August 2011. The relaxed and informal seating style is similar to Wagamama. Joana Santos, marketing manager at The Mall, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming Kokoro as our first new retailer of 2015. The restaurant offers a great range of Japanese cuisine.” Kokoro’s hot dishes include Korean beef stew, sweet and sour chicken, salmon teriyaki and chicken katsu curry.

Wagamama meeting investors this week over bonds issue: Wagamama is meeting investors in Europe this week to market its first bonds. The company is selling £150 million of five-year senior secured notes. The notes are rated B2, or five levels below investment grade by ratings agency Moody’s. Wagamama is seeking to refinance loans that funded its takeover by Duke Street in 2011. The £145m of borrowings included £90m of term loans, £25m of undrawn financing and £30m of mezzanine debt. Wagamama is meeting investors until today (22 January). The bonds are being marketed by JP Morgan.

Chop’d co-founder sets up consultancy: Entrepreneur Jasper Wight, who co-founded Chop’d and was managing director of Morelli’s Gelato premium ice cream parlour business for five years, has set up a new consultancy, Lean Business Development. The company’s pitch states: “Lean helps foodservice clients of all sizes grow their sales, estates and profits, in the UK and internationally. Delivering more for less. Leaner. Generally these are non-routine projects to gauge and exploit ‘nearby’ opportunities that involve ‘stepping out’ from the day-to-day business operations, to pilot them successfully, demonstrate their profit potential and subsequently ‘build back’ into the business ongoing architecture.”

Nando’s co-founder – ‘global chief executive’s job is bring more corporate structure but retain our passion’: Co-founder of Nando’s Robert Brozin has argued the company’s global chief executive Andrew Lynch, appointed last year, will need to create a more corporate structure for the company whilst maintaining its entrepreneurial instincts as it grows. He told The Financial Times: “It has grown almost in a federal way, almost a haphazard way, over many years as friends and acquaintances of (co-founder) Rob (Enthoven) have gone out to different markets.” The group plans to increase the number of restaurants by about 30 in the UK annually, and 20 to 30 in the rest of the world. Brozin said the biggest challenge for the group will be retaining its entrepreneurial roots while becoming more structured. “Maintaining a sense of that fun and irreverence – that’s my job in a way,” he said. “I’m looking at it and saying, how do we maintain this bigger group – getting to 2,000 restaurants, but the guy that opens the 2,000th restaurant still feels the passion and the purpose of the guy that opened the 1,000th?”

Loungers to open next to Wetherspoon in Bishop’s Stortford: Loungers, the cafe bar brand led by Alex Reilley and Jake Bishop, is to open next to JD Wetherspoon in Bishop’s Stortford. It will open in the former Lussmanns and Belgique restaurant premises in Adderley Road, beside JD Wetherspoon pub The Port Jackson, on 4 March. The Adderley Road premises, beside the River Stort, have been vacant since Belgique closed in late October 2013 after almost two years of trading in Stortford – six months before The Port Jackson opened. Before that, the riverside unit was occupied by The Times-acclaimed eatery Lussmanns for three years until it pulled out in November 2011.

First Project Pie UK site set to open next month: The first UK site for Project Pie, the US fast-casual brand serving “everyday artisan pizza” franchised by former Hakkasan chief executive Niall Howard and John and Sue Canavan, is set to open next month in Dundee with the creation of 26 jobs. The first £500,000 Project Pie, inspired by the US naming of the popular Italian dish as the pizza pie, is to open in the former Santander Bank in Reform Street. Customers will select the base and toppings of their choice for staff to cook and serve in less than three minutes in a superfast 800C oven. It will have seating for 65 and a take-away service to capitalise on the city centre’s large office staff and student population. Howard said: “Dundee is the right place for us to be opening in Europe. Project Pie is well-established in the States, where the chain was founded by James Markham, and in the Philippines. We are looking at Dundee being the first of about 60 stores in the UK and Ireland. The developments in the waterfront including the V&A are so exciting, and the city has also been awarded Unesco City of Design status. Design is something I feel passionately about, and I think we have embodied good design in the creation of our store in a listed building in such a classic thoroughfare as Reform Street.” Meanwhile Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza has signed a franchise agreement with Five Star Blaze Holdings to open at least 60 restaurants in Canada, marking the fast-casual chain’s first international move. In December, Blaze Pizza became the first fast-casual pizza chain in the US to pass the 50-unit mark.

Analysts forecast tough Fourth Quarter for McDonald’s: Analysts have forecast that McDonald’s is heading for a likely tough set of Fourth Quarter earnings tomorrow (Friday), thanks to competition in its home market, weakness in Europe, and choppy trading in Asian markets. Expectations are for adjusted earnings of $1.23, down 12.5% year-on-year, while sales are forecast to be $6.68 billion, around 5.8% lower compared to a year ago. Like-for-likes for October and November were poor, with sales declining 0.5% and 2% respectively, and the pattern is expected to be repeated in December as year-end promotions by competitors take a chunk out of sales for that month as well.

London hotels shine in TripAdvisor Awards: A total of 25 London hotels have scooped top prizes in six categories in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award – a higher total than New York, Barcelona and Rome combined. A West End hotel, The Haymarket Hotel in Piccadilly, has been crowned the best in the UK. The Haymarket was also placed seventh in a list of Europe’s top hotels, 20th in the world, and second in the UK luxury category. TripAdvisor’s James Kay said: “These awards recognise the finest hotels across the globe, according to those that really matter – the guests themselves. This year is particularly good news for the UK hotel industry, with the UK home to more of the world’s best rated properties than any other country.”

Oak Taverns wins accommodation award: Oak Taverns, the multiple-site pub operator led by Simon and David Collinson, has won the Laterooms Simply the Guest Awards “Most Improved Category” for The Olde Kings Arms, High Street, in Old Town, Hemel Hempstead. The site is a Charles Wells leased pub, a 16th Century coaching inn. Simon Collinson told Propel: “Along with Charles Wells, we re-positioned this pub 18 months ago to a more mid-market offer across the board – food, drink range and room standards. It has been great to receive this award and confirms we are on the right track.”

Kent restaurant owners open deli: Jason Freedman the owner of the award-winning Minnis Bar & Restaurant in Birchington, Kent, and his head chef Kevin Faux have opened the Curiously Kentish Delicatessen and Café. The move is in response to fans of sea front restaurant wanting to buy the home-cured produce for which it is renowned. In addition to selling its own, salted, smoked, brined and pickled meats, fish and seafood plus salads, deli accompaniments, sauces, Curiously Kentish will also sell the best artisan foods produced in Kent, including cheese, pasta, rice, sauces, speciality oils, vinegars, syrups, herbs and a host of delicatessen fine foods. Set on the former Café Bee site, the new venture is also open all day for breakfast and lunch, snacks and coffee.

Greene King’s Old English Inns division launches new business account: A new business account card has been launched to make visits to Old English Inns, the 58-strong coaching inn division of Greene King, easier for business users. Hotel users can utilise the new business account card to pay for all expenses at Old English Inns, including accommodation, 90 meeting rooms as well as food and drink. Multiple cards can be registered to the same account and employers can keep track of expenditure with a monthly statement. There’s no set-up or annual fee, up to 45 days’ interest free credit, and easier check-out for account holders. 

Walkabout operator to undertake CVA to shed seven sites: Walkabout operator Intertain, owned by Jon Moulton-led private equity firm Better Capital and operating 32 sites, is to undertake a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) to secure the long term future of the business. The move will allow the business to focus on 25 sites with the closure of seven. The company’s stakeholders have agreed a financial restructuring to strengthen the balance sheet and reduce the debt burden from £30m to £14m, conditional on the approval of the CVA. Intertain Bars Limited, a subsidiary of Intertain, has proposed a Company Voluntary Arrangement to revise lease terms and refocus the business on a smaller, more profitable core estate. The company’s lenders will commit £6m of new money to fund its capital investment programme, conditional on the approval of the CVA. Chief executive John Leslie said: “Walkabout is a strong brand with a loyal customer base and most of our sites are performing well, generating a good level of return. However, a few sites are loss making or have onerous leases, so to continue running them as they are is not viable.” Detailed CVA proposal documents have been made available to creditors of Intertain Bars Limited today, with a vote on the proposals on the 6 February 2015. Intertain has appointed Zolfo Cooper as its restructuring advisor to oversee the process and administer the CVA. Zolfo Cooper has consulted the British Property Federation on the terms of the CVA in order to gain its input and ensure the interests of the landlord community are fully considered.

Westfield launches six-week food experience pop-up: Shopping centre Westfield has launched a dining campaign and pop-up experience to remind shoppers that it is a destination for experiences outside of retail. For The Food Sensation campaign, created by Portas, Westfield partnered with sensory food consultants Condiment Junkie to create an immersive pop-up experience called Tongue Twister. Through interactive experiments hosted live in Westfield Stratford City and Westfield London, Tongue Twister will demonstrate to visitors how their sense of taste is influenced by what they see, hear and smell. Visitors will travel through a Willy Wonka-style environment, where they will be shown around four-zoned areas to stimulate the taste buds, after which they will be directed towards the 60 plus dining venues on offer within the centre. Myf Ryan, Westfield’s director of marketing UK and Europe said: “Our food culture has shifted from passive to active and consumers are looking for an experience when they dine. We are really excited to be working with Condiment Junkie on Tongue Twister to curate a sensory food experience that builds on Westfield’s existing offer to awaken and challenge our customers’ senses.” The Tongue Twister pop-up will be live alternately in Westfield Stratford City and Westfield London across the last two weekends in February. The entire campaign went live for six weeks from 19 January.

Nick Batram – departure of Domino’s finance boss a “surprise”: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Nick Batram has described the departure of Domino’s UK chief financial officer Sean Wilkins as a surprise – and probably linked to working chemistry. He said: “After a little more than a year, Sean Wilkins is to leave his position as Group CFO with immediate effect. This does come as a surprise. Under Sean the disclosure had improved, while the financial team has been strengthened. However, Sean was appointed by the previous chief executive and our reading of the situation is that the move is down to chemistry. To reassure the market that Sean’s departure is not related to the underlying performance of the business, the Group has announced that 2014 profits will be at least in line with consensus or marginally ahead. Consensus is £53.8m (Thomson Reuters), with Peel Hunt estimates being £55.3m. We don’t intend to make any changes to our forecasts. We see no reason to move from our Hold recommendation despite this morning’s surprise move. 2015 faces tougher lie-for-like comparisons but with benign cost outlook we still expect the Group to deliver solid numbers – and this is reflected in the valuation.”

BrewDog names its top employee of 2014 – its Alpha Dog: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has named its top employee of 2014, its so-called Alpha Dog. Its website stated: “Proudly wearing this most-hallowed of handles emblazoned on the back of her helmet for the entirety of 2015 is Sarah Warman. Following a year where she rose from single-handedly telling the whole internet about BrewDog to managing an entire new team responsible for BrewDog’s voice, Sarah’s feats of navigation, organisation and creative flying have earned her the highest accolade that BrewDog can bestow. As a result, for 12 months she’ll have full clearance to perform 4G inverted dives at will, and every tower fly-by request will be approved by headquarters, no matter how full the pattern. She’s also taken one some top secret projects within BrewDog, which you can all look forward to hearing about pretty soon; at the moment she’s skillfully flying under the radar (breaking cover only to demonstrate the joy of craft beer as resident expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch).”

Greene King pub brand scoops fish and chip award: Greene King’s Flame Grill pub brand has been named Best Multiple Foodservice Operator in the National Fish and Chips Awards 2015. Flame Grill is the third Greene King brand in four years to scoop the accolade. Previous Greene King winners were Belhaven in 2014 and Old English Inns in 2012. Jonathan Webster, managing director for Flame Grill, said: “We are proud to serve hand-battered and responsibly sourced fish and chips, alongside classic pub food and drink every day. As one of our popular menu items, it is fantastic that the judges recognise the high standard of our fish and chips.” The category of Best Multiple Foodservice Operator is open to businesses that serve fish and chips in three or more outlets, and is an opportunity for award entrants to showcase the quality of their take on the classic Great British dish. The awards ceremony was organised by the seafood authority Seafish and was hosted by BBC Radio 2’s Nigel Barden at the London Lancaster hotel on 20 January.
 
Star Pubs & Bars lessees given Android tills: Star Pubs & Bars is providing new lessees with state-of-the art Android till systems which will give them, as well as their accountants and stocktakers, access to a Cloud based system that enables them to generate and pull down all financial reports when and where they want. Provision of this technology will also ease cash flow and enable them to keep track of their business performance from day one. Star Pubs & Bars has also negotiated competitive prices for all existing lessees wanting to update their Epos equipment and make use of the new cloud-based service. In addition, Star Pubs & Bars has negotiated fixed prices for the next three years for its InnsideTrack support and made a number of improvements to the service. It has increased the number of wet and dry stock-takes from nine to 12 a year, bringing them in line with the monthly accountancy reports already provided and added an extra accountant visit every year into the package. Lessees will be able to opt for an ‘Innside Track light’ package in year two with lower levels of reporting and lower fees if they are in full financial control of their business and are generating the levels of profit indicated in their business plans. As part of the changes, Star Pubs & Bars is including more regional suppliers in its list of recommended accountants and stocktakers. Lessees are free to choose which they wish to use from this list. To help them make an informed choice and monitor the ongoing performance of these suppliers Star Pubs & Bars is introducing bi-monthly scorecards on each to be published on its ecommerce and recruitment websites. Chris Jowsey, trading director said: “Quality, up to the minute, information is key for lessees wanting to manage their staff and stock effectively. For existing lessees, we’ve looked at ways to keep accountancy and stocktaking fees competitive, through negotiating a three year fixed price and by introducing a second year less detailed support option for those clearly on top of their game.”

Glasgow calls for lap-dance club regulation: Glasgow City Council has called for powers to refuse licences to lap dancing clubs and effectively ban them from the city. The council’s licensing chief told MSPs that other activities were regulated but not clubs. A new Licensing Bill is proposing to change the law and introduce a sexual entertainment licence and allow councils to set a limit on the number within their area. Glasgow would like to have the power to set the limit at zero. Mairi Miller, legal manager for licensing at Glasgow City Council, told the Local Government Committee at Holyrood of an anomaly in the system. She said: “In licensing legislation we have regulation of window cleaners, burgers sold in vans and the sale of chewing gum in late hours catering but currently this form of activity is not regulated. There are no controls. Local authorities should be given the power to set the licence numbers at zero. Research would be needed to determine what the appropriate number should be, but they should have the ability set it at zero. A decision would be needed whether existing premises should be given ‘grandfather rights’.”

Whitbread extends Beefeater sale: Whitbread moved to extend its half-price January sale yesterday. The company is now offering half-price main meals for groups up to six until this coming Sunday (excluding Saturday). Fillet steak, for example, is slashed in price from £18.99 to £9.50. Customers, who need a voucher, are encouraged to pre-book. 

Cains brewery plan to create craft brewery and hotel “on track”: Plans to turn the historic Cains brewery in Liverpool into a brewery village are on track, according to officials involved in the landmark project. Cains is now in talks with developers over the £150m scheme, which would see a craft brewery, apartments and a boutique hotel created at the Stanhope Street site. With the regeneration plans currently being discussed, those behind them are now calling for more investment in the area – citing reopening the abandoned St James’s rail station as having the potential to provide a “major boost” for the city. Proposals to overhaul the Cains site were passed by Liverpool council planning chiefs in November 2013, with work expected to have begun by the end of 2014. Although work has not yet started, the bid is said to still be on track with negotiations currently taking place with developers over the plans. The huge bid would see the creation of a craft brewery along with apartments, a boutique hotel, market and cinema at Cains, creating up to 800 jobs. The project is scheduled for completion by summer 2016.

Nick Batram – Second Quarter trends at JD Wetherspoon give cause for concern: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Nick Batram has claimed Second Quarter trends at JD Wetherspoon give “cause for concern” but the company is no lost cause. He said: “The trends in Q2 give rise for concern both from a top and bottom line perspective. Wet sales seem to be taking the brunt of a slightly more cautious consumer, with little sign the positive momentum in personal disposable income are flowing through. Ultimately we believe they will but in the meantime, life is likely to remain challenging. Whilst we expected some slowing from the strong Q1 (like-for-like +6.3%), the deceleration in Q2, +2.8% (+2% in December), was greater than we had anticipated. Furthermore, it was compounded by a forecast operating margin of 7.3%, towards the bottom end of the guided 7.2%- 7.8% range, and a negative narrative on costs. To add some further negativity, the position (in terms of sales) deteriorated through the period, a trend that has continued over the last two weeks. The revenue pressure is mainly impacting wet-led sales with food holding up. Although the current H1 like-for-like sales outcome of 4.6% is only marginally below our forecast 5.0%, the operating margin is lower than we had expected (7.3% versus 7.5% Peel Hunt estimates). It also means that Q2 margin was below full year guidance. If like-for-like continues to decline then the bottom end of margin guidance is likely to be breached. However, we do feel that the inflation backdrop creates a positive consumer environment and we would expect to see a firming up as we move through 2015. Our initial thoughts are to reduce our 2015 PBT from £81.2m to circa £77.6m, giving Earnings per Share of 47.7p (49.9p) – a circa 4% trim. We are already below consensus (£82.9m). We expect to make similar cuts to 2016 and beyond. (The) update is disappointing but the slightly cautious start to 2015 by consumers is not unique to JDW. We do expect things to improve as we move through 2015. However, JDW’s strategy leaves it in a difficult position and if the top line begins to weaken materially there is no fat margin to protect the bottom line.”
 
Tim Martin – we’re bidding record amounts for Irish pubs: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has told Propel that the company is bidding record amounts for Irish pub sites. Martin reported that the company has twice bid seven million euros for sites in Dublin – one a pub and one a development site – and failed to secure them. “Property prices in Ireland, especially around Dublin, seem to me to be higher than in England. We bid seven million euros for one site – and they never even returned our call. We’ve never bid that much in England.” Martin also indicated the cost of Camden Hall Hostel in Dublin, acquired in December, cost a similar amount. The Wetherspoon chairman also reported the company is serving two English stouts at its two Irish pubs – one produced by Marston’s and one by Bath Ales – although Beamish is on draught at one of the sites as well. “Our Irish customers regard (the English stout) as nectar from heaven at 2.50 euros a pint.” The company has reported slowing like-for-like sales, down to 2% in December and even lower this month. “I always say that slowing like-for-like sale is our customers’ way of telling us to improve,” Martin told Propel. Asked for his response to leisure analyst Douglas Jack’s suggestion that the company is now trapped by its discount model, he said: “I think history is against Douglas Jack. Apart from Fuller’s we’ve done better than anybody else in the past ten to 20 years. I don’t think he’s right – in fact, I think it’s the other way around. Others are trapped by their high price model.” Martin renewed his concerns about rising rental prices, driven by fast casual restaurant operators such as Jamie’s Italian. “In general, we tend to avoid leisure and retail scheme developments – if a scheme doesn’t take off you’re more exposed than in a traditional town centre with 20,000 residents.” 

Network Rail – Christmas saw record sales at our 18 stations with pubs and bars fourth best-performing category: Christmas retail trading in the five weeks to 27 November at Network Rail’s 18 managed stations was the busiest on record growing with overall sales up 15.8%, with like-for-like sales growing by 10.7%, according to figures released by the rail operator. Pubs and bars were the fourth best-performing category behind bread, retail services and clothing. This contrasts with the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index, which recorded growth of only 2.6% for the 5-week period. The data indicates consumers’ appetites for convenience shopping and dining at travel hubs is growing, as their high street habits continue to change. Managing Director of Network Rail Property, David Biggs, said the figures are a result of an increased focus on creating stations that are destinations, not just places to get from A to B. “Our strategy is to listen to our customers and put them at the heart of everything we do. We’re bringing retailers to our stations that give customers what they want in the time they have available and our results are showing this strategy is working. At Christmas time in particular, when people are balancing work and home life, our stations offer the right mix of retail options and food and beverage offers to complement the high street,” he said. London station King’s Cross was the best performing across the network with Christmas period sales growth of almost 50%. Stations outside of London also mirrored the festive trend with Glasgow and Birmingham growing by 26% and 22% respectively. Director of Retail – Network Rail Property, Hamish Kiernan, said the boom Christmas period added to a successful year for the station retail sector, highlighted by some significant top-line figures. “The numbers as a whole are staggering; almost 850 million people visited our stations in 2014 and of those people, over 34% chose to visit one of our retail units. That’s around 289 million people, a significant rise of over 13% compared to 2013. It’s a very positive time in the station retail sector and we have a number of plans and projects ready to create even better environments for our customers in 2015.”
  
Multi-site site companies sign up for Professor Chris Edger’s Multi-Site Management Masterclass: A host of multi-site companies have signed up for Professor Chris Edger, Multi-Site Management Masterclass, being held in partnership with Propel, on Tuesday 24 February at One Moorgate Place, in the City of London. They include: Wahaca, Boston Tea Party, Burger & Lobster, Paul UK, Beds and Bars, Columbo Group, McMullen, McManus Pub Company, Meatailer, Intertain, Eddie Rockets, Amber Taverns, City Pub Company, Jamie Oliver, Rhode Island Coffee, My Lahore, Little Gems Country Dining, Porkys, Antic London, Star Pubs and Bars and Bill’s. Professor Edger, who has just published his latest book, Leading at a Distance in Multi-Unit Enterprises, will focus on how area managers can create organic growth through the three-step process of engagement, execution and evolution. Professor Edger currently teaches at City University, Birmingham, where a number of the sector’s leading companies send their general managers to be taught. Darren King, last month’s winner of 2014 ALMR Operations Manager award, graduated from its post-graduate Level 7 Multi-Unit Leadership and Strategy course in 2014 – as did the 2013 ALMR Operations Manager winner Barrie Robinson in 2013. Paul Charity, managing director of Propel, said: “This is a great chance for multi-site companies to refresh their thinking – and the thinking and expertise of key staff – as 2015 gets under way.” Tickets are £295 plus VAT for ALMR members and £345 for non-ALMR members. CLICK HERE for more details or email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com to book.

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