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Thu 29th Oct 2020 - Update: JW Lees, Grosvenor, 10pm curfew, Escape Hunt
JW Lees boss William Lees-Jones – ‘businesses are being thrown on the scrapheap’: JW Lees boss William Lees-Jones has told The Daily Mail businesses are being ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ by various trade-restricting measures – and that one of his suppliers has already gone bust. The newspaper reported: “The 56-year-old took over JW Lees in 2004 – making him the sixth generation of his family to run the business. He employs 1,250 – including 150 at its brewery in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and 1,100 in its 42 pubs and hotels across the North West and North Wales. Many more are employed in 105 pubs the company leases to landlords. Half his pubs are shut, and sales at the remaining venues are more than 50% down. Lees-Jones said his business is suffering more than at any other time, including both world wars, adding that the firm is in ‘survival mode’ and that he hopes he is not ‘the generation that has to turn the lights off’.” Lees-Jones said: ‘We’ve done a good job in the industry to make things safe but the impact of the restrictions on our pubs is enormous. It is probably the toughest period the business has ever been through. We’ve effectively been in Tier Two in Greater Manchester since the end of July.’ It cost up to £160,000 to make the company’s pubs covid-secure, including spending on hand sanitiser, perspex, new pub layouts and masks. One central Manchester venue, the Rain Bar, had only been open for four weeks when the highest Tier Three restrictions were brought in. This year JW Lees will make a loss. It made a £1 million profit in the year to March 2020 – which included two weeks of closure from the first lock-down – down from a £6.8 million profit in the year to March 2019. On Twitter, Lees-Jones reported the company’s Rain Bar, Manchester took £26 on food and £11 on drinks on Monday – in 2018 for the same week it took £67,297 or £9,613 a day. “We are 99.6% down in Tier Three,” he stated.

Grosvenor seeks to help London restaurant tenants by taking a stake: The Duke of Westminster’s property company has set up a fund to take stakes in retailers and restaurant operators to help them to grow after the pandemic subsides, The Times has reported. The newspaper stated: “Grosvenor, one of Britain’s biggest landowners and developers, said that it was looking to ‘selectively invest in tenants’ to help them to pivot their businesses. It would be the first move by a big landlord in Britain to invest directly in retailers during the coronavirus outbreak.” James Raynor, 47, chief executive of Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, said: “By innovating to invest in tenants, we’re rewriting what it means to be a landlord – seeking to create partnerships where each is genuinely invested in the others’ success. Through long-term investments, we can help these businesses adapt their strategy and grow.” The Times added: “Landlords face the prospect of a rising number of empty properties if they do not support retailers, bars and restaurants. Grosvenor has already waived rent for hundreds of tenants between April and June and extended the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme for its restaurants in September. The direct investment strategy has been tested previously in the United States, where Simon Property Group, one of America’s largest shopping centre owners, bought Forever 21, the fashion chain, out of bankruptcy in February. It also has since bought a stake in Lucky Brand, the denim maker. Grosvenor has about 500 retailers and food and beverage operators occupying its properties in the upmarket Mayfair and Belgravia districts. About two thirds of its retailers are independents or smaller businesses. The company said that it was ‘taking a confident, long-term view on the success of central London’.” It is already in talks to take a stake in Roland Mouret, the fashion label, Sky News reported. The designer has an outlet on Carlos Place in Mayfair.

Legal action against 10pm curfew falters: The courts have refused permission for judicial review proceedings challenging the government’s 10pm curfew to go ahead. A spokesman for GAY nightclub, which is pursuing the action, said: “The good news is that there is still the chance for our lawyers to argue before a judge why the case should be allowed to go ahead and for a judge to make a different decision. This can happen so we have decided not to give up. Since we made our last announcement, the tier system has been introduced with more protective measures introduced and venues across the country, including GAY Manchester, have been forced to close. Knowing that even when these venues can reopen they will continue to make losses because of the curfew is heartbreaking, especially when we can see no good reason for it to protect customers and the public. All it is doing is putting hospitality out of business, and encouraging people to continue their evening after 10pm at private residences without all of the covid-secure measures venues like ours have in place. So we have instructed our lawyers to renew the application for the court’s permission to go ahead, but this time we will be arguing for permission at an oral hearing. We still haven’t seen evidence that comes close to justifying the curfew. If the government had something convincing we would have hoped to have seen it by now. It doesn’t. To be honest with everyone, so you know the next stages, if we lose the oral ‘renewal’ hearing then it’s game over as far as our court action is concerned. However, if we win it then we get to go to a full court hearing and we get to fight for hospitality and removal of the nonsensical 10pm curfew. This will not be easy, but we are continuing because GAY believes the 10pm curfew is crippling hospitality and is not helping stop the transmission of the virus. So round 1 may be lost but the battle is not over. As soon as we have a date for the oral hearing, we will update you.” Michael Kill chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “We are disappointed with the initial decision from the court, but feel very strongly that the case that the GAY legal team has presented is the right argument, and that it is one that a court needs to hear. At present we are still not satisfied that we have received anything that even remotely substantiates the supposed benefits of the 10pm curfew.”

Escape Hunt opens eleventh UK site: Escape room operator Escape Hunt, is opening its next UK owner-operated site based in Basingstoke today, having opened for bookings on 15 October 2020. It is the eleventh UK site operating under the ‘Escape Hunt’ brand and will have six games rooms, including an instance of Escape Hunt’s newest Doctor Who themed game, ‘A Dalek Awakens’ as well as a virtual reality games room. Outdoor games are also available. Richard Harpham, Escape Hunt’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted to be opening our latest UK site in Basingstoke. The site has a prime position in Festival Place and our recent experience in Norwich, which has opened incredibly strongly, gives us a great deal of optimism for sites in premium schemes, such as this. Work at our twelfth UK site, at Brewery Quarter in Cheltenham, is now substantially complete and is similarly positioned in a prime location in the town, giving us confidence that it too will be well received. We continue to see attractively priced sites in prime locations and are actively continuing our UK site roll-out strategy.”

AB InBev – Third Quarter saw value and volume growth in the UK: Budweiser Brewing Group, part of AB InBev, reports UK business grew in value and volume terms in its Third Quarter. Paula Lindenberg, President, Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I said: “Throughout this quarter, despite ongoing challenges in the sector brought on by further covid-19 restrictions and closures, Budweiser Brewing Group introduced new initiatives to continue supporting our customers, and launched campaigns from our much-loved brands, all while continuing to prioritise the health and safety of our teams. In the third quarter, our UK business grew in value and volume, supported by the continued strength of our brands in the off-trade channel and the gradual re-opening of the on-trade channel. Our iconic brands, including Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona, performed strongly, showcasing the strength of our brand portfolio. In recent months, our penetration grew 40%, representing almost an additional two million households entering the category and choosing our portfolio of brands to enjoy in new occasions. We are confident this will lead to continued growth. Stella Artois and Budweiser remained the #1 and #2 most valuable beer brands in the Off-Trade, while Corona grew at nearly three times the rate of the total category, maintaining its position as the most valuable World Beer brand in the Off-Trade. Our two new alcohol-free launches, Stella Artois Alcohol-Free and Budweiser Zero, have continued their strong momentum, growing by double digits versus the previous period. And as the hospitality sector re-opened, Stella Artois was the best performing brand in the On-Trade, in terms of like-for-like sales. In early July, pubs and bars began to open after 106 days of closure. After our Save Pub Life initiative funnelled £1 million into pubs across the country, we evolved the platform to offer a comprehensive package of support to help our pub and bar partners re-open safely. This included providing access to masks, hand sanitiser and outdoor and take-away options, as well as exclusive deals with partners like BT Sport and Opus Energy. Our people and our breweries are deeply rooted in our local communities and we are still working to support those around us. We continue to produce hand sanitiser and disinfectant for distribution to key workers. We are pleased to have been able to produce and donate more than 10,000 litres to frontline workers in our local communities, including care homes, doctors’ surgeries, schools and other vital services.

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