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Mon 17th Jan 2022 - Update: Brighton Pier Group, working from home and covid passports set to be scrapped, grant concerns
Brighton Pier Group expects first-half sales to be up 31% on 2019 levels, plans to pay down £7.7m of debt: Brighton Pier Group has reported strong trading for the 26-week period ended 26 December 2021. The company stated: “The period started strongly and the businesses have continued to deliver an extremely robust performance. While there was some impact in December due to the restrictions, over new year the bars recovered their momentum, trading 9 % up on 2019. The group expects total sales of 22.7m, up 177% on the same period in 2020 and up 31% against the same (pre-covid) period in 2019. On a divisional basis, Brighton Palace Pier like-for-like sales are up 15% on 2019. The golf division’s like-for-like sales are up 33% on 2019. Bars like-for-like sales (for 23 weeks, division reopened from end of July) are up 27% on 2019. Lightwater Valley theme park acquired in June 2021 continues to trade ahead of expectations. Strong cash flow generation is expected to enable the group to pay down £7.7m of debt, reducing borrowings 38% by the end of June 2022. This represents an excellent performance during challenging times, underlining the attractions of a diversified asset base of experiential venues and bars well-positioned to benefit from growth in the UK entertainment sector. Management believe the group is in a strong position to deliver a good result for the year, comfortably in line with market expectations.” Chief executive Anne Ackord said: “Our businesses target growth within the UK entertainment sector; all are popular, cash generative, asset-backed businesses with further organic growth opportunities – particularly so in the golf division and the recently acquired Lightwater Valley. We expect 2022 will be a good year. Alongside the announcement of our first-half results in March, we intend to give longer term-guidance showing what we believe our businesses can deliver as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Latest edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book now available to Premium subscribers: The latest edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, is now available to Premium subscribers. A further 48 companies have been added, taking the number of UK pub, restaurant, cafe and hotel operators featured to 507. It also features group editor Mark Wingett’s next quarterly pick of the companies well-placed to grow in the post-pandemic era. His latest pick of companies are Brakspear, Simmons Bars, Hub Box, Park Holidays, Vaulkhard Leisure, Hostmore, QFM Group, Caprice Holdings and Ivy Collection. The picks are also accompanied by a 2,100-word report. The Blue Book, which is updated monthly, shows the full damage done to the sector by the pandemic, with 321 companies making a combined loss of £8.17bn compared with 186 companies in profit – making a combined £797m. Losses now outstrip profits in the sector ten times over. Total turnover of the companies stands at £28.5bn. The Blue Book provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, ranking companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. It also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors. Premium subscribers also receive two other databases – the New Openings Database, produced in association with StarStock, and the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, which are also updated each month. 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 single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 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 Mark Wingett.

Working from home and vaccine passports set to be scrapped: Face masks are likely to remain a legal requirement on public transport and indoors but work from home guidance and vaccine passports are expected to be scrapped at the end of the month. Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, said yesterday (Sunday, 16 January) that “signs are encouraging” for lifting coronavirus restrictions next Wednesday (26 January), adding he was optimistic after “some very promising data” on infections and hospital admissions. Dowden told Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News: “It has always been my hope we would have the ‘Plan B’ restrictions for the shortest period possible. I’m under no doubt the kind of burdens this puts hospitality, wider business, schools and so on under, and I want us to get rid of those if we possibly can. The signs are encouraging but we will wait to see the data ahead of that final decision.” Ministers have decided to end work from home guidance as a priority given its economic impact while vaccine passports provoked a Tory revolt in the Commons last month. There are concerns that while the spread of the Omicron variant appears to be reaching a plateau in London and the south east, hospitals in the north east and north west regions are still under strain. As a result the requirement to wear face coverings is likely to remain, reports The Times. Dowden said the data gave the government pause for hope and optimism. Dr Susan Hopkins, the UK Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser, said at the weekend the number of infections in London, the south east and the east of England was flattening. It was reported prime minister Boris Johnson could make an announcement within days on easing restrictions as part of a blitz of new policies as he tries to survive the publication of Sue Gray’s report into alleged parties in Downing Street that broke lockdown orders.

Hospitality sector warns failure to deliver UK covid grants could set it back further: Sector leaders have warned struggling hospitality and leisure companies have had to cut back staff and operations after many have been left waiting for emergency grants promised before Christmas. In December, chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged £683m in grants for businesses in England to help them survive the “Plan B” covid rules that stopped many people going to pubs and restaurants at the busiest time of the year for hospitality. The government said the grants, part of a broader £1bn package, were in recognition that “the rise of the Omicron variant means some businesses are likely to struggle over the coming weeks”. It added: “At what is often their most profitable time of year, many pubs and restaurants have seen cancellations and reduced footfall as people have responded to the rise in cases ahead of Christmas.” However, few businesses have yet seen any money, according to pubs and business groups, despite the need to cover rents and wages at the end of last year as they face another barren month in January. Local councils said the detailed guidance for the grants was only issued on 30 December and updated on 12 January. Councils have received their allocations from the government but warned that Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) guidance makes it clear that checks are necessary before any money can be paid. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told the FT “some” grants were reaching businesses “but it is very much by exception rather than the norm”. She added: “[The grants] are a drop in the ocean compared with what they’ve lost but it’s something to get them through a really tough period when they have no cash coming in. That’s why it’s vital that local authorities get them out as quickly as possible.” In the meantime, operators are “muddling through and surviving” by tapping banks on the promise of receiving grants later in January but already some had started to cut staff hours or had closed to save costs, Nicholls added. UKHospitality estimates a third of all hospitality businesses had less than one month’s cash reserves. BEIS said the government had delivered the money on 7 January along with guidance on eligibility. Despite this, business owners across the hospitality industry have pointed out that the grants, which are capped at £6,000 per site, will do little to replace the trade lost over the Christmas period. Tim Foster, co-founder of Yummy Pubs, said he had not heard back yet after applying for a grant. But, he added, for one of the worst-affected sites, the money “doesn’t even cover one day’s trade in December”.

Fitness franchise UBX Training set for UK rollout following £50m investment: A fitness franchise co-founded by four-time world champion boxer Danny Green is set for a rollout across the UK and Ireland following a £50m investment. The business was co-founded by Green and entrepreneur Tim West in 2016 as 12RND Fitness and has opened more than 90 sites in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore with more than 15,000 members. It is now looking to expand globally under the brand UBX Training. UBX Training has now agreed a deal with investment firm and franchise operator Empowered Brands, which is targeting 250 sites for the chain in Britain, creating around 750 jobs. The two companies said that as many as 450 to 550 sites could be opened within the next 15 years, depending on demand. As part of its investment, Empowered Brands will make £30m available as loan financing to help individual franchisees cover initial set-up costs. The firm estimated an investment of around £200,000 would be required to open and operate a single UBX Training unit under the franchising model. Empowered Brands said the investment reflected its confidence in UBX’s long-term vision and resilience to any future covid-related disruption to the fitness sector. John Jempson, chief financial officer at Empowered Brands, said: “We foresee strong interest in our franchise offering from three key groups – personal trainers looking to take the step up into bricks and mortar, existing fitness businesses looking to diversify their portfolios, as well as ‘corporate refugees’ – individuals who might be leaving the workforce and rethinking their career path. UBX units are small and with our support, represent a low cost of entry to the fitness market.” West added: “Since its foundation in 2016, the brand has gone from strength to strength – continuing to grow even through covid-19 lockdowns. The UK and Ireland are logical and exciting next steps – they have a long and proud boxing history and we see a huge opportunity to modernise and elevate boxing using our proven and innovative training model. We are well-positioned to capitalise on the wider interest in health and fitness post-pandemic. Covid-19 shone a light on the importance of regular exercise – for both physical and mental well-being – thereby widening our target market.” UBX’s non-contact workout consists of 12 three minutes rounds of different boxing skills and drills. Empowered Brands’ flagship fitness brand is Energie Fitness, which has around 100 clubs, with a total of 116,000 members.

Fever-Tree overtakes Schweppes as America’s leading tonic water brand: Fever-Tree has overtaken Schweppes as America’s leading tonic water brand. The breakthrough comes just over three years after Fever-Tree set up operations in the US, having previously exported mixers across the Atlantic from its base in London. Fever-Tree has taken American bars and supermarkets by storm, snapping up 26% of the market by last month, against Schweppes on 25%. The brand is already the market leader in the UK but this is the first time it has surpassed Schweppes in the US. Schweppes is sold in America by multi-billion dollar drinks conglomerate Dr Pepper Keurig. Fever-Tree chief executive and co-founder Tim Warrillow said: “The US is often seen as a graveyard for British brands, which makes this milestone even more pleasing.” The US accounted for £58.5m of its overall £252.1m sales in 2020. Fever-Tree shares have grown 15-fold since the company listed on junior market AIM in 2014, when it was valued at £154m. Its market value today is just under £3bn.

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