Lorna Harrison looks at Mansfield Brewery's plans for a £20m spend on its branded retail division.
An exciting phase is beginning for Mansfield Brewery with the introduction of some new and very diverse branded retail concepts.
The Nottinghamshire company has launched the Pub Concept Co division to meet the needs of a "rapidly changing market" — catering for everyone from families to young party-goers.
And what is so promising is the fact that the new concepts are very different to many of the bog-standard High Street themed pubs. Although the designs have obvious influences from several competitors, they can definitely be put into a league of their own.
The new concepts include:
- Lloyds No 1 — first opened in Nottingham in December offering a city centre European cafe bar environment resembling Pitcher & Piano, Bass's All Bar One and Slug & Lettuce — stylish, chic and civilised. At least five more are expected to follow.
- Brownes — highly commended in the 1996 Publican Design of the Year Award — is a thriving pre-club hotspot with bold colours and club music which you will either love or hate. Either way, it is unique.
- Trading Post is Mansfield's answer to family dining but is not as clinical as many of its competitors. They are light and spacious with very good food. There should be a chain of six by Christmas.
- Lock, Stock and Barrel is family led, with a good, reasonable food offering. Six should be set up by March.
Mansfield is investing a hefty £20m into developing the concept side of its business, out of a total spend of £30m.
This is a bold move at a time when the country is experiencing an explosion in themed concepts.
Darrell Stocks, retail director, said: "It will be interesting to see how this market goes. I certainly believe that the time will come when the balloon will burst and many concepts will go. However, we see ourselves as the best and will continue to develop as long as we receive positive reactions."
So confident is Stocks that roll-outs of the concepts are expected through Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and as far south as Milton Keynes.
The possibility of a national rollout has not been ruled out.
However, Stocks admits that they don't always get it right. Brownes, for example, has opened in Leeds but is not half as successful as the Nottingham outlet — proving the point that it's not the concept that works, it's the location.
The Pub Concept division of Mansfield is certainly seeing a lot of action and a large chunk of company investment.
But the new venture is not detracting from the other activities and Mansfield is keen to point out it is not a threat to the tenanted estate, currently comprising 260 houses.
Mansfield is continuing to expand the estate by 15-20 houses a year. This year alone, £3m will go into refurbishing 60 pubs.
Tenanted director Neil Bircumshaw said the company's mission is to "create the best pub in the neighbourhood" whether it be a men's drinking den to a lively, youngsters' bar.
The pubs are diverse in size, character and offerings but pride themselves on providing a need for their local market.
"We believe the tenanted business is extremely important and the entrepreneurial flair of our tenants enables them to compete," said Bircumshaw.
Two years ago the company launched Trade Partnerships, whereby Mansfield takes on the cost of all fixtures and fittings, refurbishment, alterations, training and development in return for a higher rent. The agreement runs for three years.
Paul and Janet Eldridge of the Angel Inn, Clowne, are one of 30 tenants to sign. They said the scheme was working well for them, claiming the trade had risen by 50 per cent since the refurbishment.
The Angel is a good example of the company's idea of a "dual-purpose" pub, offering a quiet, traditional pub feel throughout the day until the evening when the flashing lights come on the music is turned up and the youngsters pour in.
Unlike the concept division, tenanted pubs are proud to boast the Mansfield branding and obviously serve a range of Mansfield ales.
With all the action taking place across the retail division, it is easy to forget the fact the company is a large brewer employing some 4,600 staff at the plant and its surrounding offices.
Brewing will continue to be a huge part of the company, which was established in 1855.
It is almost brewing to capacity of 600,000 barrels with ales including Mansfield Bitter (ABV 3.9 per cent) and recently launched Deakin's (4.3 per cent).
So from regional brewer to major pub operator, Mansfield has moved rapidly over the past couple of years. For a regional brewer its ideas and execution of them would put many national pub companies to shame.
Those companies ought to be on the look out, as Mansfield has some great High Street concepts and they look set to stay.