This year, the Morning Advertiser launched its MA100 club for multiple independent retailers. Four months of intensive research last year produced the first exhaustive picture of those who form this increasingly important group of emerging companies. Research showed that its membership has a combined turnover of about £800m, with members running anywhere between three and 80 pubs. Member companies are among the most innovative in the sector, with expansion tending to be dependent on organic growth by dint of trading success.
They often make a slow start, because their expansion is driven by cash flow produced from out-performance at their first sites. The superior retailing skills of the MA100 membership mean that they are highly-prized lessees of the larger tenanted pubcos. The smaller - and, indeed, many of the larger - members have a very mixed property/occupation profile. They often begin with high-quality tenanted sites and move along the food chain to pick up freeholds and commercial leases. The market opportunity for these sorts of companies has increased as tenanted pubcos have steadily improved the quality of their sites.
The importance of this group of companies - and the innovative nature of the MA100 project - has attracted some of the biggest names in the industry to support it. Scottish & Newcastle, boutique finance house Sapient Corporate Finance, online ordering services barbox, beer-quality monitoring firm Brulines, Punch Taverns cask-ale champion Wells & Young's, market research firm CGA, outdoor solutions firm Breezefree and Zonal Retail Data Systems are all sponsoring the launch of MA100.
One key segment of the MA100 initiative involves holding two free, high-quality seminars each year for the membership. The content has been designed to address the trading and strategy issues closest to member companies' hearts. The first took place at Claridge's in March and the second was at Celtic Manor, near Newport in Wales, in June.
A second key segment is the launch of six awards that seek to recognise the achievements of MA100 member companies. The categories are: Best Food Offer, Best Drinks Offer, Most Impressive Growth, Best Design, Best Newcomer and Best Individual. The quality of entries in the inaugural MA100 awards has been excellent and our judges were impressed by the energy, dedication and passion of our finalists. Congratulations go to our finalists and thank yous to all of our sponsors.
MA 100 winners
Best Drinks Offer
Winner: Pleisure Owners: Nick Griffin
Why?: Judges were impressed by Brighton-based Pleisure's policy of each venue having its own drink speciality. Its Great Eastern pub has 60 bourbons, the Saint James has 70 different rums, while the Speaker, is a cask-ale champion. The company is on its third edition of The Pleisure Bible, a free customer guide to esoteric products. The guide helped Pleisure achieve the highest sales of Zubrowka vodka in the country. Staff training is viewed as paramount.
Finalists: Baa Baa Group, Head of Steam, Market Town Taverns and Orange Tree Group
Best Food Offer
Winner: Peach Pub Company
Owners: Lee Cash and Hamish Stoddart
Why?: The ethos at Peach ensures all its chefs share its founders' passion for sourcing and serving great food. Everyone who joins Peach gets a personal induction on these values from the owner-directors. Monthly adventure days allow chefs to learn about production, seasonality and using different foods in their cooking. Among current innovations, Peach has leased a barn on an organic farm, which is to become its training and culture centre.
Highly commended: Whiting & Hammond
Finalists: Merchant Inns, Innventure, Memorable Pubs
Most Impressive Growth
Owners: Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap
Why?: Realpubs has grown from a solitary leasehold in Westbourne Park in 2002, to an estate of seven pubs at the start of this year. The vast majority of its expansion has been achieved through judicious control of cash flow. In the past year, the company converted three new pubs and refurbished two existing outlets with impressive results. The company's track record attracted investment from private equity firm Brockton Capital last November.
Highly commended: Town & Country Inns — Apres Bars
Finalists: Orange Tree Group and Mercury Inns
Winner: C2 Original Inns
Owners: Phil Simpson and Matt Jackson
Why?: C2 Original Inns, as its name would suggest, does things its own way. The company bought the Duke of Edinburgh in Barrow-in-Furness, in August 2006, where it spent £1.4m creating a 30-bedroom complex and business conference centre. Since the end of 2006, it has bought and refurbished its second Cumbrian boutique hotel, to add to its well-known Sun Hotel, and taken control of Lancaster Brewery. In essence, C2 Original Inns has relaunched the traditional coaching inn with a contemporary twist.
Finalists: Memorable Pubs and Merchant Inns
Best Design Winner: Realpubs
Owners: Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap
Why?: The Realpubs estate comprises largely Victorian corner sites with real character. But Realpubs impressed the judges with its ability to create the right tone of modern, relaxed and contemporary design for its target audience in zone-two areas of London. The pubs are not over-designed and genuine effort is made to work with existing natural features. The company is not opposed to the odd high-impact design spend — feature chandeliers bring an element of grandeur to dining areas.
Finalists: Baa Baa Group, Mercury Inns and Kurnia Group
Winner: Paul Salisbury and Paul Hales Founders of Lovely Pubs and Mitchells & Butlers consultants
Why?: This pair run their own groups of six outlets. They have also overseen the rollout of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) Project S gastropub offer. Operating without a contract, the pair have now helped M&B roll out 49 sites in less than five years. Their latest pub, the Farm, in Monkspath, Solihull, is an M&B franchise site that takes as much as £60,000 per week — it took just £4,000 a week when they took it on.
Finalists: Rupert and Jo Clevely, Geronimo; Graham Price and Gerry Brunning, Brunning & Price; Michael Kheng, Kurnia Group