Fuller's is working on Project Green. Retail director Simon Emeny explains all
Fuller, Smith & Turner, the London brewer famous for traditional ale and traditional pubs, has recruited a senior Pitcher & Piano executive to set up a thoroughly modern chain.
Fuller's retail director Simon Emeny bends over backwards to stress that the new chain will not be a copy of P&P.
Emeny, a former Bass executive, is part of the new breed of younger Fuller's recruits in recent times.
He said: "We have taken on Harri Owen, who will give us the operational skills we need to establish a series of fun, stylish and trendy bars. I call them bars because that it what they will be, rather than pubs as such."
Owen was operations manager with P&P.
Emney added: "There is no point copying Pitcher & Piano, Slug & Lettuce or All Bar One.
"Our bars will have their own unique operational twists and designs."
It will be the end of October before Fuller's receives legal clearance for a name. "We have to check no-one else is using the name we want to use," says Emeny. In the meantime, the idea is being called "Project Green" within the company.
The new bars will be female-friendly and contemporary.
They will also form the last pub chain Fullers' comes up with for some time.
"We do not want to try to run 10 different themes. We want a few, which complement each other well so that we can concentrate on excellence," adds Emeny.
Fuller's already has Ale & Pie, "Bohemia" (more of which later), its community pubs and English Inns, a hotel chain.
Ale & Pie is currently 16-strong and expanding to new sites in Bristol, Birmingham, Bath and Brighton. (What is it about towns whose names begin with B?).
Licensing is becoming ever more difficult. Emeny said: "Bath is a very traditional place. We are trying to persuade magistrates there that our pubs are exactly the kind they would want in Bath."
To get the Bristol site, which opened 10 days ago, the company had to compete against 15 others.
Fuller's believes it is important to send the right man to court, so Inns managing director Tim Turner makes a personal appearance.
The brewer has yet to apply in Brighton, and is not expecting an easy time of it.
The English Inns chain is also being expanded, from three to eight by the end of the financial year in March.
These are as close as Fuller's would ever want to get to something like Whitbread's Brewers Fayre. "We don't encourage younger children as we have a fairly mature customer base as a company," said Emeny. "We like to see older children and families."
Accommodation rates are running at 90 per cent.
Fuller's has two "Bohemia" pubs, neither of which uses the name. Bohemia is simply a name the company uses to describe similar outlets.
The Crown in Islington, North London, was the first of these and the other is the White Horse in Richmond.
Two new sites will open by the end of March.
They offer Mediterranean food and Continental lagers as well as real ale.
They attract little passing trade because they are in residential areas. Herein lies their real strength. They prove it is possible for pubs to offer modern values in a traditional setting.
The Crown in Islington is making £13,500 a week now, compared to £2,500 previously. The refurbishment cost a paltry £240,000, though running costs are much higher than before because of the need to employ sous chefs, commis chefs and waiting staff as well as bar staff.
Nevertheless this represents a remarkable return on investment as well as an outstanding contribution to the local community.
The 50 or so community pubs are about half the Fuller's Inns estate.
Emeny said: "I came from Bass and I saw how the community estate was run there. I don't think we can afford to ignore these pubs."
He added: "We are in a unique position as we have a brand name for our community pubs in the Fuller's name. We have the same kind of loyalty as some football teams enjoy."
Fuller's has failed to meet a promise to refurbish a target of 20 pubs. It has managed 13. "The delay has, once again, been partly due to problems obtaining planning permission," says Emeny.
These are very significant refurbishments. Trading area is increased, toilets are upgraded and air-conditioning is installed.
This means than pus can be "zoned" to accommodate drinkers and diners, smokers and non-smokers.