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Tue 29th Aug 2017 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Late-night leisure industry playing essential role in equipping young people with work skills: The late-night leisure industry is having a positive impact on employment, including the role it plays in equipping young people with essential skills, according to the latest Deltic Night Index. The research found almost three-quarters (72.8%) of respondents had acquired more skills in the sector than they expected, while 60.7% would recommend working in the industry. More than four-fifths (81%) said they developed communication skills through working in the industry, while 74.8% felt they learnt how to work under pressure and 69.2% learnt how to deal with difficult situations. In addition, almost two-thirds (65.5%) learnt how to multi-task, 63.7% learnt how to work with different people, and 62.7% learnt how to work effectively in a team. Almost one-third (29.8%) felt they developed management skills, more than one-quarter (25.2%) developed negotiating skills, and one-fifth (20.6%) developed operational skills. More than one-third (36.5%) believed there were fewer barriers to promotion than in other industries, while a similar number (34.1%) found there were more career development and training opportunities than they expected. The Deltic Night Index, a quarterly report published by The Deltic Group, the UK’s largest operator of premium late-night bars and clubs with 58 venues, looks at changing consumer behaviours in the UK’s late-night leisure sector, which encompasses clubbing, drinking and eating out, cinema and live music. The report found more Brits (43.2%) are going on a night out at least once a week, compared with 37.2% in the previous quarter, while spend on drinks rose almost 4% to £17.99. However, average spend on late-night leisure fell 3.5% to £53.63, compared with £55.56 in the previous quarter. The pub was the most popular night out with more than a quarter (25.8%) choosing to spend the most money in those venues, while clubs saw an increase of almost 3%, and bars rose more than 4% to 15.9%. Peter Marks, chief executive of The Deltic Group, said: “This latest data demonstrates the role (the industry) plays in equipping people with vital skills for working life and is further evidence of the far-reaching positive impact of the evening and late-night economy. Although overall spend has declined, it is encouraging to see people opting to spend more on drinks in venues rather than on pre-drinks.”

Industry News:

Propel Multi Club Conference opens for bookings, Hubbox founder to present: The final Propel Multi Club Conference of 2017 is now open for bookings. The full-day event takes place on Wednesday, 1 November at the Millennium Gloucester hotel in London. Richard Boon, founder of Hubbox, which has received £3.4m of external investment, will talk about the company’s journey in expanding to six sites in the West Country, offering better “burgers, dogs and beer”. Multi-site operators of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets can book up to two free places by emailing Anne Steele on anne.steele@propelinfo.com
 
Chris Muller Multi-site Management Masterclass open for bookings: Propel will host Professor Chris Muller, the leading thinker, teacher and author on multi-site foodservice management in the US, at its next Multi-site Management Masterclass. It takes place on Friday, 29 September at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. Leading UK businesses such as Mitchells & Butlers and TGI Friday’s have sent staff to be taught by Professor Muller at Boston University’s School of Hospitality – now Professor Muller is returning to the UK to lead this bespoke day. The event will provide valuable insights for founders and area managers of small and medium-sized multi-site companies and area managers of large companies. The sessions will include building the case for strategic growth, developing multi-unit managers from players to coaches and a discussion on the importance transition plays in the practice of management and leadership. Mastering Multi-Units founder Lee Sheldon will also talk about how to successfully drive profitable growth for your business. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium members, £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers. To book tickets, email Anne Steele at anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Nightlife app aimed at university students launches £750,000 crowdfunding campaign: Prelinks, an app that provides a comprehensive listing of nightlife and live music events in university cities, has launched a £750,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to develop the product. The startup, which was founded by Jono Linden, is offering a 17.65% equity stake in return for the investment. The pitch states: “Launched in September 2015 with a strong focus on undergraduate students, we have now scaled to six university cities across the UK. In that time we have amassed 50,000 registered users, who have joined 250,000 events and taken millions of in-app actions. Our growth and increasing market share (more than 12,000 users in Nottingham have downloaded Prelinks) potentially allows us to take a strong market place position, between party-goers, and event promoters and venues. Using this user base, and the increasing amounts of data gathered, we can create personalised app experiences that help our users find great nights out, and events to sell tickets and fill venues. Our app is free to download, and our key revenue stream is ticket sales. During the first quarter of 2017, we ran a five-week pilot selling tickets via major platforms such as Ticketmaster and Skiddle. The pilot generated 20,000 link clicks, and 2,000 ticket sales, showing the huge demand among our users to get tickets through the service. To capitalise on this demand, we are building functionality to buy tickets in-app, directly through Prelinks. Of the £750,000 we are raising 16% will be invested in product development, 40% in marketing, 34% in staffing and 10% in overheads and other costs.”
 
Drinkaware Crew launches for Freshers’ Week in three new cities: Alcohol education charity Drinkaware is continuing its support for pubs, bars and clubs with the expansion of its Drinkaware Crew scheme into new areas in time for Freshers’ Week. Drinkaware Crew, which helps to keep young people safe during nights out, will launch in Derby, Coventry and Leicester, and expand into new venues in Nottingham, from September, operating across a total of ten new sites including Student Union bars and other venues. The new schemes are the result of partnerships between Drinkaware, the participating venues and local stakeholders, including police forces, Business Improvement Districts and local authorities. Following the expansion, Drinkaware Crew will be operating in 14 cities around the UK. Drinkaware Crew are additional members of the venue’s staff team who receive specialist training in how to support young people who may be vulnerable as a result of drinking too much. Venues are also reporting the crews are helping to improve the safety and well-being of customers, as well as freeing up time for other staff including security and bar teams to focus on their jobs. Rommel Moseley, Drinkaware director of business development and partnerships, said, “Drinkaware Crew delivers clear benefits to customers, to other team members, and to the business overall. Venues that operate Drinkaware Crew are demonstrating their commitment to social responsibility and to ensuring a safe environment for their customers.” Earlier this year, Drinkaware also launched an Alcohol Vulnerability Awareness e-learning course to support smaller venues, giving customer-facing staff the skills and knowledge to identify alcohol-related vulnerability and support customers at risk from harm. The e-learning course is also used to complement Drinkaware Crew in larger venues. Drinkaware Crew is designed for venues with a 500-plus capacity and is currently running in Bolton, Cheltenham, Glasgow, Plymouth, Shoreditch, Cardiff, Swansea, Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham and Exeter.

Amazon cuts prices at Whole Foods Market by 43% on first day of ownership: Amazon spent its first day as the owner of a bricks-and-mortar grocery chain cutting prices at Whole Foods Market as much as 43%. At the store in East 57th Street in Manhattan, organic fuji apples were marked down to $1.99 a pound from $3.49 a pound; organic avocados went to $1.99 each from $2.79; organic rotisserie chicken fell to $9.99 each from $13.99, and the price of some bananas was slashed to 49 cents per pound from 79 cents. Amazon agreed a deal in June to buy Whole Foods Market, which has such an entrenched reputation for high cost that its nickname is Whole Paycheck, for $13.7bn. Mark Baum, a senior vice-president at the Food Marketing Institute, told Bloomberg: “Price was the largest barrier to Whole Foods’ customers. Amazon has demonstrated it is willing to invest to dominate the categories that it decides to compete in.” Whole Foods Market, which has nine sites in the UK, reported its second consecutive year of profit in the UK last year. The company lost money for eight consecutive years in the UK but turned to profit in its 2015 financial year. Companies House accounts for the year to 25 September 2016 show turnover up 3% on a like-for-like basis to £117.2m, from £114m the year before. Pre-tax profit was £1,206,000, down slightly from £1,312,000 the year before. Administrative expense improved by eight basis points to 40.5%, with a drop of 39 in the total number of staff during the year. In total, Whole Foods Market has 430 stores in the US, Canada and UK.
 
Payment app for hospitality sector launches £500,000 seed fund-raise ahead of launch: Zapaygo, a lifestyle/payment app for the sports, concert/leisure and hospitality sectors, is aiming to raise £500,000 in its final seed funding round ahead of launch. The app allows users to pre-order and pre-pay for food, drinks or goods in advance of arriving at a venue or destination, or have them delivered to a table or home. The funds are being raised through the Angel Investment Network platform, which connects startups with angel investors. Zapaygo, which is based in the West Midlands, has signed a contract to put its software in 2,300 multi-venue businesses and about £800,000 has been invested to date on the app’s development. The company stated: “As part of Zapaygo’s extensive research and development period, it has built key commercial partnerships granting access to millions of users upon launch. It has a key contract with a major EPOS partner with access to 750,000-plus potential users per week. It also has agreements with numerous high-profile sports and music venues and hotels. Future plans include further UK-based deals and international expansion.” The startup has forecast revenue of £642,000 with Ebitda of £10,000 in year one, growing to revenue of £6,603,000 and Ebitda of £3,071,000 in the second year and revenue of £15,015,000 and Ebitda of £8,689,000 in year three. 

Fish and chips remains Britain’s favourite pub dish: Fish and chips remains Britain’s favourite pub dish, according to figures released by Stonegate Pub Company brand Yates’s. The company said sales of the classic dish during its Fish And Chips Friday offer were 192% higher than offers during other weekdays. The company added the dish remained a key focus for its customers throughout the week, beating all the brand’s other offers including Chicken Melt Monday, Tikka Tuesday and Chilli Thursday. Yates’s marketing manager Alex Botting said: “We pride ourselves on our British heritage and love seeing our fish and chip sales going through the roof. While we have a variety of offers throughout the week, it seems customers just can’t get enough of this famous dish.”

Company News:

Nottingham-based McDonald’s franchisee reports turnover boost: Nottingham-based McDonald’s franchisee Blades Restaurants has reported turnover increased 12.7% to £16,446,662 for the year ending 31 December 2016 compared with £14,596,451 the previous year. The company saw a pre-tax loss of £18,985 compared with a profit of £381,669 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Blades Restaurants, which is owned by Jerry Nicholls, operates seven McDonald’s sites across Nottingham and employees more than 800 staff. The company stated: “As for many businesses we believe the trading environment in which we operate to be challenging. However the company remains optimistic and has continued its reinvestment with an additional store purchase and major refurbishments of three of our restaurants during the year.”
 
Castle Rock Brewery to open 23rd site next month: Castle Rock Brewery, the Nottingham-based brewer and pub company, will open its 23rd site next month. The company is relaunching the Peggers Inn as the Fox and Grapes on Thursday, 7 September – the original name of the Southwell pub when it opened in 1833. Landlord Danylo Semak said: “We’ll have a varied selection of drinks on offer with cask and craft beers along with spirits, soft drinks, coffees and teas. Our food choices will concentrate on pizza, jacket potatoes and simple fare with an emphasis on vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free ingredients.” Meanwhile, Castle Rock Brewery has been chosen to supply the beer and real ale at the newly revamped Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall. The venue closed in July for a £3.3m transformation, which included the remodelling of the theatre’s ground-floor cafe bar and upper floor roof terrace. The bar will reopen under its new name Yarn at the end of September. Earlier this month, Castle Rock Brewery reported a turnover boost despite “patchy sales” at its pubs. The company saw turnover increase 0.9% to £9,570,631 for the year ending 31 March 2017, compared with £9,480,610 the previous year. Pre-tax profit fell to £55,570 compared with £319,722 the year before.
 
Goodbody – JD Wetherspoon likely to outperform peers in more challenging consumer environment: Leisure analysts at Goodbody have argued JD Wetherspoon is likely to outperform its peers in a more challenging consumer environment. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 1,190p ahead of Wetherspoon’s full-year results next month, Goodbody said: “We have increased our FY17 Ebit forecast by 3% given strong recent trading updates and later years by circa 1%. Much of FY17 is already known – the pre-close update included top line trends (like-for-likes +3.9%), operating margins (7.6% to 7.8%) and exit net debt (circa £715m). Therefore focus will be on current trading and outlook. Management has guided 3% to 4% like-for-like growth is needed this year to offset cost headwinds. We currently forecast 3% in FY18 and circa 2% declines in Ebit. However, there could be upside risk to these estimates given recent momentum and hugely impressive traction on its new mobile ordering app (more than one million downloads). Given the ongoing economic uncertainty in the UK, it is worth re-examining historical performance. While like-for-like sales do not indicate an outperformance versus peers during the 2008-10 recession, adjusted Ebit trends do. We believe this shows a lower impetus to discount at Wetherspoon given its existing relative price competitiveness. Wetherspoon remains one of our preferred picks among UK pubcos. The sector faces numerous well-flagged challenges from which Wetherspoon is not immune. However, in the face of cost pressures we believe it has more flexibility on prices than most others. Furthermore, as stated above, we believe Wetherspoon is likely to outperform peers in a more challenging consumer environment. We increase our target price to 1,190p, driven by lower share count and higher forecasts. We reiterate our ‘Buy’ recommendation.”

Draft House to open former Grand Union site in Camden Road this week: Draft House, the London-based craft beer operator led by Charlie McVeigh and backed by Luke Johnson, is to open its new site in Camden Road this week. The company is launching the venue in Camden Road on Thursday (31 August). It acquired the site as part of a six-strong package from Grand Union when it bought the business for about £3m in June. Especially for the site, which is opposite Camden Road overground station, Draft House has commissioned the Camden Rock Map, which charts the area’s musical history from the 1960s to the present day and takes up an entire wall of the pub. McVeigh said at the time of the Grand Union deal: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to acquire a key site in Camden Town and five other beautiful pubs in prime central London locations.” Draft House also acquired the Grand Union sites in Paddington, Chancery Lane, Farringdon and Kennington, plus the Trade Union venue in Wapping. They are also being converted into Draft House pubs. 

Online beer subscription service BeerBods closes crowdfunding campaign after raising nearly £270,000: Online beer subscription service BeerBods closed its fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube after raising nearly £270,000. The company was offering a 10% equity stake as it looked to raise £250,000. It has now closed the campaign with 593 investors pledging £269,430. The largest investment was £10,000. The company, launched by Matt Lane in 2012, previously raised £150,000 on Crowdcube in 2014. It sought further investment in a bid to become the “leading independent online retailer of beer in the UK”. Shares will be issued from holding company Drink Beta, of which BeerBods is a wholly owned subsidiary. The pitch stated: “We believe BeerBods was the UK’s first beer subscription service. We have one simple aim – to get more people drinking better beer. After being named ‘one of the 100 most innovative small businesses in the UK’ by Smarta and O2 in 2014, we raised some seed investment and broke crowdfunding records in the process, raising £150,000 in 36 hours on Crowdcube. Nearly all the money came from our amazing customers. Since then we’ve grown our subscriber numbers almost four-fold, our revenue five-fold, and our team six-fold. Today we have almost 4,000 active subscribers and another 14,000 members who buy mixed cases or gifts from us on a less frequent basis. Since launching we’ve sold more than £1.4m of beer (gross merchandising value). We think we’ve laid the foundations to become one of the leading independent online retailers of bottled beer in the UK. Now we want to grow our impact by bringing a tech team in-house, develop ideas for new products, and invest in an ambitious marketing strategy.”

Living Ventures opens third Red Door cocktail bar, in Leeds: Living Ventures has opened a third site for its Red Door cocktail bar concept, this time in Leeds. The 200-capacity venue has opened in Call Lane at a site formerly occupied by Hirst’s Yard. Red Door was launched in Chester in 2010 by the late Living Ventures boss Tim Bacon, along with Chester entrepreneur Dave Hinds and Liverpool-born cocktail virtuoso and the brand’s managing director Lee Lynch. A second venue opened in Liverpool, which has become a celebrity-spotting haunt. Lynch told BDaily: “We are majorly excited to bring Red Door to Leeds. There is such a great cocktail scene and some really cool bars. We think Red Door will fit right in. I was part of the team that opened Prohibition back in the day and I know people in Leeds can party. I believe Red Door will bring a new vibrancy to Call Lane and certainly shake things up.” Earlier this month, Living Ventures opened a Gusto restaurant in Chislehurst, south east London, for the brand’s 18th site. A Gusto is due to open in Mere, near Birmingham, at Christmas.

Former Kitty Fisher’s head chef to open first restaurant: Tomos Parry, former head chef of Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair, is to open his first solo restaurant. Parry, whose trademark is to cook over fires, will open the site in Shoreditch, east London, at the end of the year. He told the Daily Post: “We’ve taken over an old pub that has a lovely feel to it. I’m basing it on one of the old restaurants I’ve eaten at in San Sebastian in northern Spain but there will be Welsh elements to it. I’m going to try to use as much Welsh produce as possible.” Parry, who cooked for film stars such as Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper while at Kitty Fisher’s, recently hosted three long-table banquets in the Royal Academy’s courtyard. All three events sold out, with Parry cooking spider crab steamed over seaweed embers on the courtyard fire pit, slow-roasted turbot smouldering over chestnut and apricot wood, and aged beef rump cap slow roasted over birch and hay.
 
Rochdale-based multi-site operators open pub in former coaching inn for third site: Rochdale-based multi-site operators Mike and Sarah Howarth have reopened a 260-year-old former coaching inn as a pub for their third site in the Greater Manchester town. The grade II-listed Wellington Hotel in Drake Street, which had been empty for five years, has reopened as The Wellington following a £200,000 refurbishment. The three-storey site dates to 1750 and became The Duke of Wellington Hotel in 1810. More recently the building housed the Nile nightclub. The Howarths, who also run Vicolo Del Vino wine bar and Benjamin’s Italian takeaway, will initially serve drinks only but plan to launch a traditional British menu by the end of the year. The second floor of the venue is being converted into a function room, due for completion in May 2018. Mike Howarth told BDaily: “Rochdale has huge potential to be a destination again and we want to be part of that. Vicolo Del Vino has been popular since it opened so we know there’s an audience for good quality food and drink in the town centre.” Rochdale Borough Council leader Richard Farnell added: “The Wellington Hotel was open when Rochdale was a driving force in commerce. It’s fitting it has reopened as part of the town’s regeneration.”

Walthamstow-based Wild Card Brewery passes 50% mark in £250,000 crowdfunding campaign: Walthamstow-based Wild Card Brewery has passed the 50% mark in its  £250,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to expand its production and bar facilities. The company, founded by William Harris and Andrew Birkby, is offering a 7.15% equity stake in return for the investment. So far, 170 investors have pledged £125,120 with 26 days remaining. The largest investment to date is £20,000. The pitch states: “The company has been on an exhilarating growth story – from hobby, to shoestring startup, to becoming a leading London craft brewery. We currently produce a range of five core beers complemented by small batch brews. Right now, demand for our beer outstrips supply and we’re ready to take a big step forwards. The money will be used to open a bigger production facility at Lockwood Way, significantly increasing our production capacity from 8,400 litres to 21,600 litres. We will also open a second bar at our Lockwood Way site, creating a new and vibrant drinking space for the Blackhorse area in Walthamstow. We will refurbish our existing bar at our site on the Ravenswood Industrial Estate to increase service speed and introduce serving tanks and launch our barrel-aged beer programme at our existing site. In the year to July 2016, we had turnover of £555,032 and net profit of £26,857, yet in the year to July of this year we had turnover of £694,000 and an expected net profit of £46,500.”
 
Former Chancery head chef to launch sharing plates concept in Clerkenwell for debut solo site: Yuma Hashemi, former head chef of London’s The Chancery, is to launch sharing plates concept The Drunken Butler in Clerkenwell for his debut solo site. Hashemi will draw on his experience from working around the world to create a menu that will be loosely French-themed but with a Persian and Korean twist and a lot of curing, preserving, salting and fermenting. The Drunken Butler will launch in Rosebery Avenue in October or November offering dishes such as salt-pickled vegetables with wild sorrel and borani, a Persian-style omelette called coucou sabzi and pigeon and couscous pastille, Hot Dinners reports. Alongside sharing dishes and larger plates, Hashemi is planning a five-course tasting menu. Speciality, barista-served coffee will also play a central role in the restaurant. The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner and seat about 30 diners with space for six outside. Hashemi has also worked in his home town of Berlin as well as Sweden, Portugal, Bordeaux, Chicago and San Francisco.
 
Stonegate Pub Company reintroduces Yates’s Wine Lodge to Ipswich at original site: Stonegate Pub Company has reintroduced Yates’s Wine Lodge to Ipswich almost a decade after a site closed in the town. The previous venue, in Tower Ramparts, was sold to JD Wetherspoon in 2008, which converted it into the Robert Ransome pub. Wetherspoon sold the Robert Ransome to Stonegate Pub Company earlier this year. The original venue was sold when the brand had a major restructuring at the start of the recession. The new Yates’s underwent a £350,000 refurbishment and now features a new dance floor, bar and lounge area. General manager Ian Andrews told the Ipswich Star: “We are so excited to open Yates’s to the people of Ipswich once again. Following a big investment into the overhaul of the venue, the site has a new look that is miles apart from the Yates’s they once knew.”

Former Just Eat boss offloads £5m of shares: The former chief executive of Just Eat, the global market place for online food delivery, has sold nearly £5m of shares in the company. David Buttress has sold 784,649 shares – out of an award of 1,034,649 shares – at 635p each, worth £4.9m. That leaves him with 250,000 shares, which, with his existing stake of 500,000, means he still holds 750,000 shares in the company. Buttress revealed in February he was stepping down as chief executive citing “urgent family matters” but he has stayed on the board as a non-executive director. Peter Plumb, the former head of moneysupermarket.com, will replace him next month. Buttress joined Just Eat when it was just a fledgling company 12 years ago and led it through its £1.47bn stock market listing in 2014. Just Eat operates in 13 countries and delivers food from 64,000 restaurants. Last month, it said first-half sales and profits were up more than 40%. 
 
Old Spike Roastery team launches Coal Rooms concept in Peckham Rye: The team behind Old Spike Roastery, cafe bar Spike & Earl and restaurant Aside, all in south east London, has launched chargrilled meat concept Coal Rooms in Peckham Rye. The restaurant has opened in a disused grade II-listed building at Peckham Rye train station. The venue offers plenty of seats for counter dining, a private dining room, an in-house butchery and an open kitchen with a robata grill. Alongside the meat and coffee, Coal Rooms offers coal oven-baked flatbreads and house sauces such as red eye gravy made in a coffee-deglazed pan. The menu has been created by head chef Sam Bryant (Smokehouse, Princess of Shoreditch), with beef and pork from Yorkshire, Welsh lamb, goat, dry-aged duck breast, smoked eel and pig’s head sausage, and roasted bone marrow curry, Hot Dinners reports. There are also vegetarian options such as broad bean ragout with green olive.
 
Cumbrian-based fish and chip shop operators lodge plans for gourmet burger restaurant: Cumbrian-based fish and chip shop operators Neal and Ian Fraser have lodged plans to open a gourmet burger restaurant in Egremont, near Whitehaven. The brothers have submitted plans to Copeland Council to convert a former HSBC bank branch in Main Street. The proposal includes adding a kitchen extension to the grade II-listed building. Neal Fraser told the News & Star: “Egremont hasn’t got anywhere like Eaten By Monsters in Carlisle, somewhere that does burgers and premium beer and wine.” The Frasers operate Fraser’s Chip Shop in Egremont and Crosby’s in Whitehaven.
 
Whitbread submits plans to build Premier Inn in ‘woefully provided for’ Hampshire town: Whitbread has submitted plans to build an 84-bedroom Premier Inn at a business park in Ringwood, Hampshire. The four-storey hotel would have more than 100 parking spaces, the Daily Echo reports. Premier Inn is refusing to reveal the cost of the scheme or the number of people it would employ but an 85-bedroom hotel scheme in nearby Fareham will create 60 jobs. A planning and design statement submitted to New Forest District Council stated: “The proposals will provide high-quality hotel accommodation within a highly sustainable location adjoining Ringwood town centre, where hotel and visitor accommodation is woefully provided for.”
 
Ashley Hotels adds Southampton hotel to portfolio for fifth site: Family-run business Ashley Hotels has expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of Highfield House Hotel in Southampton for the company’s fifth site. The 71-bedroom Highfield House Hotel is two miles from Southampton city centre and a short walk from Southampton University. Ashley Hotels will retain all staff who wish to remain with the business and has appointed a new general manager following the “voluntary departure” of the previous incumbent. Funding to support the undisclosed acquisition was provided by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Ashley Hotels director Alim Hirji told Insider Media: “The Highfield House Hotel represents a strategic acquisition for the group and we see this being a profitable business given the location attracts the business and leisure market, with Southampton University contributing to all-year-round sales.” RBS relationship director Graham Pither added: “I’ve worked with the Hirji family for a number of years and supported many of its acquisitions. This latest purchase in Southampton is a profitable opportunity with bookings looking strong for the rest of the year ahead.” Ashley Hotels operates two central London sites and others in Andover, Hampshire, and St Albans, Hertfordshire.

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