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Mon 2nd Aug 2021 - Update: Escape Hunt, Chapel Down, pingdemic
Escape Hunt reports occupancy returning faster than expected: Escape Hunt, a leading international operator of escape rooms in the fast-growing experiential leisure sector, has reported trading in the ten weeks to 25 July 2021 has been encouraging, with levels of occupancy returning faster than expected after lockdown. As a result, revenue and site level Ebitda from the UK owner-operated estate in the ten-week period to 25 July 2021 has been ahead of management’s expectations. The company stated: “Total revenue during the ten weeks to 25 July 2021 was 58%. higher than in the same ten-week period in 2019 (in the board’s opinion, the most relevant period for comparison as trading in the same period in 2020 was affected by covid-19 restrictions). Over this ten week period, revenue from the company’s eight established UK owner-operated sites which were open in the same period in 2019 was at 95%. of the levels in the same period in 2019. However, occupancy has continued to grow week on week, and encouragingly the like-for-like performance has further improved over the last five weeks, with sales from these original sites exceeding sales in the same period in 2019 by 2%. As set out in its announcement on 28 June 2021, the company is benefitting from various initiatives implemented during 2020 to improve site level margins and has also benefitted from the temporary reduced VAT rate which is expected to run until 30 September 2021. As a result, estimated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) at site level for the ten weeks to 25 July 2021 showed a 185% increase over the site level Ebitda in the same ten weeks in 2019. On a like-for-like basis, site level Ebitda from the company’s eight established sites increased by 83%. compared to 2019, and this improved further to 114% improvement over the last five weeks. Further progress has been made on the group’s UK rollout; the company has now exchanged contracts at a new site in Milton Keynes, which will be the group’s 18th owner-operated venue, and work to develop the site is in progress. Work is also continuing at the group’s proposed 19th owner-operated site in the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex, where games have been delivered and are in the process of being installed. Further potential sites are in the pipeline and the board believes property conditions will continue to be favourable in the short to medium term. As a result, the board remains confident of achieving the target of 20 owner-operated sites ahead of the original target date of June 2022.” Richard Harpham, chief executive of Escape, said: “We are very pleased with the performance of the business since the UK sites re-opened in May with occupancy levels bouncing back more quickly than we had expected. The new sites in Norwich, Basingstoke, Cheltenham, Watford and Kingston are contributing meaningfully to our performance and provide confidence in our site selection and strategy to continue the roll out of new owner operated sites in the UK. Most pleasingly, the operational efficiency at site level has been very good with improved Ebitda margins leading to significant growth compared to comparable periods in the past. We are also encouraged with the performance so far of our acquisitions in both the Middle East and France / Belgium where demand appears to be coming back, providing the prospect of attractive rates of return on our investments. We remain very firmly of the view that consumer spending on experiential leisure will continue to grow and that the group is well placed to benefit from this shift in spending patterns giving us cause for optimism for our future.”

Next edition of Propel Blue Book of Turnover and Profitability to add 73 companies: The next edition of the Propel Blue Book of Turnover and Profitability, produced in association with Mapal Group, will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday 11 August at midday, and will add 73 companies. This means the Blue Book will now feature 352 UK pub, restaurant, cafe and hotel operators with a total turnover of £29.6bn. The Blue Book has begun to reflect the economic damage of the pandemic with 172 companies in profit and 180 reporting losses. The Blue Book, which is updated every month – on the second Friday of the month – provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Last Friday, Propel premium subscribers received the updated database of multi-site companies for July, which is produced in association with Virgate, The latest Propel Multi-Site Database included 71 operating 477 sites between them and increase the total number of companies on the database to 1,951. Subscribers received the database as a PDF and an Excel spreadsheet, they were also sent a 12,094-word report on the businesses added during July. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. It is updated at the end of every month. They also received a new database on Friday (30 July). The New Companies Database, produced in association with StarStock, focuses on the newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and will be updated at the end of every month. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. In Friday’s (30 July) Premium Opinion column, Propel insights editor Mark Wingett looked back at the week just gone, with a focus on the decision by NewRiver to sell Hawthorn to Admiral Taverns. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to sign up.

Carter to succeed Thompson as chief executive of Chapel Down: Chapel Down has announced that Andrew Carter, currently managing director of Chase Distillery, will succeed Frazer Thompson as its new chief executive, next month. Carter will be joining the business on 13 September and Thompson will work with him to ensure a seamless handover. Martin Glenn, chairman of Chapel Down Group, said: “Frazer has decided to retire after 20 years of building Chapel Down into England’s biggest wine business and has helped put English wine on the map. It is difficult to overstate his impact and leadership. He leaves with the great gratitude of the Chapel Down board. We are fortunate to be able to announce the hiring of another high calibre executive, Andrew Carter, who has a great track record in building wines and spirits businesses and who can drive further growth at Chapel Down for the benefit of customers and shareholders alike.” Thompson said: “After 20 years, with the company in good shape after the pandemic, and with a really exciting period of growth ahead, I have decided that now is an ideal time for me to step aside as chief executive and for the company to introduce some fresh energy and leadership to the business. I am delighted that Andrew has agreed to join us. He brings a wealth of drinks experience and has the talent and energy to lead a fantastic team to new heights. I love this business and brand and I will remain both as a substantial shareholder and adviser. It has been a remarkable journey and a privilege to have had the opportunity to change the way the world thinks about English wine. We have built a fantastic team and an exciting brand with great growth prospects. I truly believe that the journey has just got more exciting.” Carter said: “I am delighted to be joining at such an exciting time. Chapel Down is the leading English winemaker and I look forward to further building the business and team to deliver the next stage of transformational company growth for our customers and shareholders. Frazer has been an extraordinary pioneer of the English winemaking industry and I will work closely with him and the Chapel Down management team to ensure a seamless transition.”

Half of Britons cut back on socialising to avoid pingdemic: Nearly half of Britons are reducing social contact, polling for The Times found, in a sign that the “pingdemic” is having a significant effect on behaviour. Some 46% of those surveyed by YouGov said that they had reduced contact with others to avoid being “pinged” by the NHS covid app and having to self-isolate, compared with 39% who said they had not. The findings suggest that government policy, while enormously disruptive, is having the desired effect. Until 16 August, even those who are double-vaccinated are told to stay at home after contact with a positive case. The vast majority of those surveyed, on 29 and 30 July, suggested they were sticking to rules and advice, with 10% saying they had deleted the app from their phones and 13% saying they had switched off its contact tracing function. 7% said they had avoided getting a coronavirus test to avoid being told to isolate. From 16 August, anyone who is double-jabbed will no longer have to isolate after meeting someone who has tested positive, although they will be advised to take daily rapid tests to ensure they do not have the virus. Despite the proportion of people who said they had reduced contact with others, only 16% said they had cancelled plans. Asked about the present coronavirus situation in the UK, 63% said they thought things were improving but that the pandemic was not yet over. 18% thought the pandemic was “just as bad as it has been for a while” and 8% said it was “largely over”.

250,000 viable jobs at risk as furlough scheme winds down: Hundreds of thousands of viable jobs will be put at risk when the furlough scheme ends as workers in industries where voluntary restrictions persist lose the support, analysis by the New Economics Foundation suggests. Employers must now pay 20% of the wages covered by furlough, up to a maximum of £625 a month, to admit staff to the scheme as the staged withdrawal continues. Furlough is due to be removed completely from the start of October. The Times reports that the foundation, a think tank, said that yesterday’s changes would threaten 250,000 jobs as the 20% contribution “will not be cost-effective” for some employers. When the scheme ends, 660,000 workers will still need support because many industries, such as travel, transport, arts and hospitality, may not be able to return to normal despite the removal of official restrictions. Alex Chapman, senior researcher at the foundation, said: “The current end date for the furlough scheme is arbitrary and can cause unnecessary harm to thousands of workers. Our analysis highlights that demand will remain suppressed because of voluntary measures that the public will take in response to the uncertainty around the Delta variant.” The findings echo a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce which found that one in five businesses planned to let staff go as a result of the new terms of engagement this month.

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