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Fri 24th Dec 2021 - Update: Nightclubs warn PM over further restrictions, Joseph Holt, Barkby Group and Black Sheep Coffee
Enforced closures ‘could back nightclubs into corner with no chance of survival’: Nightclub bosses have warned imposing further restrictions on the sector would back firms “into a corner with no chance of survival” as they urged the government to avoid measures after Christmas. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said in a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson that the UK late-night economy has already “suffered enormous damage” as a result of the government’s response to the pandemic in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Johnson launched “Plan B” measures, which made it mandatory for people to show proof of at least two vaccination jabs, or a negative lateral flow or PCR test, to get into nightclubs. Footfall in hospitality venues has also plunged over the past two weeks as consumer sentiment has been weighed down by soaring virus rates. Industry bodies had been critical of messaging from Johnson urging caution and comments from England’s chief medical adviser professor Chris Whitty suggesting people should cut back on socialising. This week, the government has held off from announcing further restrictions. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said in a letter to Johnson: “It’s likely that tens of thousands of our businesses will never recover from this damage. Most of these are small and medium-sized owner-run businesses that play a vital part in the cultural, social, and economic lives of our towns and cities. And if that is not bad enough, we now face the possibility that major parts of our sector may face further curbs, and, in the case of nightclubs, total closure immediately after Christmas.” Kill added extended restrictions such as covid certification should give people confidence they can enjoy nightclubs safely. “Full closure of venues on top of this does not give people any confidence in your current mitigations and backs our sector into a corner with no chance of survival, based on very little scientific evidence,” he added. “Connecting through music, dance and socialising in our communities is an essential part of physical, social, and mental wellbeing and during this extremely difficult time especially needed to give people hope. Let’s not end this year as we did last – end the uncertainty and let us dance on New Year’s Eve.” In Wales, from Boxing Day nightclubs will close and restrictions will be imposed on businesses such as two-metre social distancing in offices. In Scotland, nightclubs have been ordered to shut for at least three weeks from Monday (27 December).

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Andy Hornby: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in December in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The final video – which will be sent at 9am today (Friday, 24 December) – features Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, who discusses restructuring the business, the next stage of Wagamama’s growth, the strategy for its leisure division, the importance of Brunning & Price, and where the sector goes from here. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases – the Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. 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 group 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. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

Joseph Holt – pubs trading at 86% of 2019 levels: North west brewer and retailer Joseph Holt has reported since reopening in May this year, trading in its pubs has, on average, been at 86% of 2019 levels. The company said the Cat and Lion in Stretton, which it acquired in early 2020 and reopened in September 2021, was “performing strongly” while trading at its Manchester airport pub – the Bridgewater Exchange – which opened in July following a ten-year deal with The Restaurant Group was “encouraging” despite low passenger numbers. Chairman Richard Lee said the business had come through the “most testing time in its history”, but said while trading conditions remain “difficult”, the future was “definitely starting to look brighter”. The company provided the update as it reported turnover for the year ending 31 December 2020 was down 51% to £34.3m, compared with £70.5m the previous year “as a result of its pubs being fully closed for six months of the year and were severely impacted for much of the remaining period”. The group reported a pre-tax loss of £1.1m versus a profit of £4.3m the year before. No dividend was paid, but the company intends to resume payments “as soon as economic and trading conditions allow”. Lee said: “These are the bare numbers as a consequence of the pandemic but they do not tell the underlying story faced by our staff, customers and suppliers. It has been truly demanding for all concerned to weather the financial, personal and mental challenges that dealing with covid-19 has posed. We could not, of course, have achieved such a smooth reopening of the estate without the support of all those working in the pubs, brewery, drays and office. I know it has been hard work and we have been stretched at times, but I would like to take the opportunity to extend my, and the board's, sincere thanks to the whole team for stepping up, working together and helping Joseph Holt get back on its feet. We are very pleased with how the pubs are currently trading and how well they are being run. The England team's successful performance in the European Football Championship added a much-needed morale boost for the country as a whole. Since we opened fully on 17 May 2021 we are on average only 14% down on the comparative period in 2019. During 2020, we successfully launched our own online beer shop, ‘Holts at Home’. This enables customers to buy a range of their favourite beers and have it delivered to their homes. I fully believe that it can sit alongside our pubs and free trade, and that these various branches of our business can complement and support each other. We see ‘Holts at Home’ as an exciting part of our future. Our pubs and brewery were closed for the first three and a half months of 2021, during part of which time 98% of the group's employees were on furlough. The majority of pubs did not reopen until 17 May and table service, face masks, test and trace and social distancing made the first couple of months quite challenging and difficult. We welcomed the relaxation of certain restrictions in July, although trading conditions remain difficult. At the time of writing, the vaccination and booster programme is well advanced and, while infection rates remain high, the future is definitely starting to look brighter. We are open and I know our customers are delighted to be back in their local Joseph Holt pub.”

Barkby Group – underlying demand for our premium pub experience remains strong, plans 12-strong estate by end of FY2023: Premium gastropub operator Barkby Group has said underlying demand for its “premium pub experience and accommodation offer” remains strong, with revenue exceeding pre-covid levels when trading restrictions were removed. The company, which also operates in the real estate, investment and coffee shop markets, said it believed there are “significant opportunities for growth and to generate shareholder value, particularly in our core businesses of property development and pubs and, further restrictions on trading notwithstanding, we look forward to 2022 with confidence”. The group intends to grow its pub business from seven to 12 sites by the end of the 2023 financial year. Reporting its full-year results for the year ending 1 July 2021, the company stated: “Despite the ongoing and unpredictable impact of covid-19 variants, we remain confident that underlying demand for our traditional pub experience, with delicious food, attentive service and relaxed accommodation remains strong. During the quarter to September 2021, our pub business enjoyed its first uninterrupted quarter of trade since the pandemic began. Our pub estate achieved record revenue and profit, with underlying like-for-like sales up 22% in comparison with the same period in 2019. Barkby operates premium pubs with rooms located predominantly in the Cotswolds and West Sussex, and therefore has fared relatively better than wet-led pubs, and those dependent on office-workers and businesses that promote congested use of space such as music venues, late-night bars and nightclubs. Our segment of the market recovered quickly when lockdown restrictions were lifted. This is due to our large footprint properties that are able to operate in a covid-secure way with minimal interruption. We also experienced increased demand for domestic holidays from UK residents as a result of reduced confidence and appetite for international holiday travel alongside enforced travel restrictions. Barkby operated seven premises during the year, with a total of 60 rooms. Our focus is to maintain the individual character and uniqueness of each location, while implementing operational best practice. In the next 12 months, we will invest in an improved labour planning model as well as stock control systems and processes. These activities are expected to increase the underlying profitability across the estate. During the year, Barkby added The Harcourt Arms in Oxfordshire to its portfolio on a leasehold basis. We also added the Ebrington Arms, also in the Cotswolds. It is our intention to grow the portfolio to 12 pubs by the end of the 2023 financial year. Due to the impact on trading of covid-19 during the year it is difficult to report on the underlying performance of the business during this period. The pub business made an operating loss of £0.1m excluding depreciation, amortisation and interest expense, during the financial year.” Of its Workshop Coffee business, which operates four sites in central London, the company stated: “As with Barkby's pub business, Workshop Coffee was also significantly impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. Independent coffee shops, hotels and other hospitality customers have been forced to close during the national lockdown periods, impacting Workshop's wholesale revenues. As working-from-home became a requirement, home delivery sales increased significantly. This created a strong market opportunity for Workshop with its existing web shop, subscription customers and strong digital presence. With significant reductions in London footfall, Workshop remains cautious about reopening its retail stores. Three units were reopened in the summer of 2021, with a focus on cost control. As the number of workers, shoppers and tourists have returned to central London, revenues have steadily increased and the coffee shops are expected to generate positive operating profits going forward, subject to any significant ongoing impact from the Omicron variant. Workshop made sales of £1.2m in the year and generated an operating loss of £0.6m. Gross margin increased to 45% due to a change in the sales mix between retail, online and wholesale.” Overall, the group report revenue increased 3.1% to £15.1m for the year ending 1 July, compared with £12.0m the previous year. Pre-tax losses increased to £4.4m from £3.1m the year before.
 
KPMG – booster jabs ‘key to people spending’: Consumers who have managed to save during the pandemic will spend a sixth of the amount they have put away next year, according to new research. The survey, by KPMG, asked 3,000 consumers about their financial confidence and spending intentions for the coming year. The findings suggest the rising price of goods and services is the biggest deterrent to spending, with almost a quarter citing it as the reason for caution. Other factors included higher taxes and household bills, and uncertainty linked to the coronavirus pandemic. A quarter said they had not saved this year. Linda Ellett, UK head of consumer markets, leisure and retail, told the Times: “This intended spend is much needed, but consumer confidence is such that even those willing and able to spend on average won’t spend more than a sixth of their pandemic savings in the coming 12 months. Businesses facing mounting cost pressures will be hoping that the effectiveness of the booster programme leads to a feel-good factor that increases spending intention further.” KPMG found younger people felt three times more financially secure than older consumers entering 2022, compared with this time last year. Value for money, quality and convenience were the top three purchasing considerations for this year and next. A third will consider sustainability more than when buying goods and services in 2021. A fifth of consumers said a holiday will be their most expensive purchase in 2022, followed by purchasing or renovating a property. One in ten said they would be spending their savings on a household appliance.

Black Sheep Coffee puts digital collectables on the menu: London-based coffee shop operator Black Sheep is selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of its distinctive wall art in the latest sign that digital collectables are creating a new way to engage customers and generate excitement about brands. NFTs are unique digital items that can be bought and sold online. They use blockchain technology to keep a digital record of ownership, similar to cryptocurrencies. Most NFTs are bought using ether, the currency supported by the ethereum blockchain. Gabriel Shohet, Black Sheep’s co-founder and co-chief executive, told the Times the auctions of its street art and murals would start in the first week of January. Some of the NFTs will have minimum prices to cover transaction fees and others as high as one ether (approximately £3,000). He said 278,000 people had signed up to receive alerts for the auction dates within 24 hours of its waiting list opening, which he described as “baffling”. Each digital artwork is a direct reproduction of the spray paint applied to the walls of its shops, some works combined as a series from a specific shop. The business has 50 sites and has been trading for eight years. The tokens will also include “locked content” such as codes for free coffees, loyalty points and discounts on merchandise. He added some customers would be picked at random from those that sign up to receive free NFTs. “Great art has always been at the heart of our coffee shops,” Shohet said. “Every day we get heaps of requests from customers asking if they can buy our unique murals, awesome free-hand graffiti portraits, and our brilliant street art. So we made it possible.”

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