View from the Summit - A lessee's personal opinion

By Gerry Price

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags S&n pub company Pub industry Tenanted pub company Public house Lease

Gerry Price: Licensee of Inn@West End, Woking, Surrey
Gerry Price: Licensee of Inn@West End, Woking, Surrey
Enterprise Inns long-serving lessee Gerry Price shares his views on yesterday's Tenanted Pub Company Summit.

I arrived at the Tenanted Pubco Summit just in time to hear Peter Hansen, mergers and acquisitions expert, surprise us all with his research which showed that despite major challenges over the last five to ten years, Enterprise had still outperformed 'the market'. It wasn't clear whether he meant a Farmer's Market or a flea market but he moved swiftly on to admit that lending was 'constrained' which was holding back a 'broadly positive' outlook.

A look at the days financial section of The Telegraph with tales of retail woe, skullduggery in the boardroom at M&B and a miserable outlook for consumer spending left me struggling to understand which world I was trading in - and feeling a bit like Alice in wine bar land.

Rachel Perryman, of market survey company CGA Strategy, made an upbeat report out of a survey of 515 tenants who were generally more positive than last year, where food sales were holding up and visits to the pub were more occasional than regular. Footfall is apparently driven by offer not price, by strengthening links with the community and by being flexible.

Licensees are looking at the competition more, which isn't surprising when there are so few customers out on a Monday and Tuesday evening that all they could see were their competitors looking back. Not surprisingly she concluded that tenants worries were primarily utilities, rents and beer prices. Good job we aren't tied to an avaricious Pubco, eh?

Steve Haslam, who has three Enterprise leases and two freeholds, has in the past been a strong advocate of the low cost entry, tied lease model and working closely with your business partner. It seems that he is still working closely with Jo Drain but the third party in this unusual marriage didn't get the usual commendation and some of the gripes that other tenants have with some of the big players appeared to be surfacing.

Steve's vision is simple - high retail standards, investment and evolution leading to business success. What he wants from a lease is flexibility, recognition of success and a level playing field. From what he said, he is isn't getting it with his current leaseholds and so has bought several freeholds to balance his portfolio. I felt it was a sad contribution from one of the best operators, and multiple operator at that, in the pub industry today.

Andy Emmerson, of Domino's Pizza, gave an upbeat and humourous presentation about the success of Domino's Pizza which showed where the tenanted and leased pub sector could be going, not so much in the structure of a franchise but in the clear statement of company values, direction and appreciation of those who create the value in the business. Unfortunately, it only served to highlight how far we still have to go in the pub industry to get anywhere near the celebration of success that Andy was able to demonstrate.

Andy Slee, of Punch Taverns, was able to show that Punch have brought in some guys who 'get it' and that progress is being made. In the process there has been the admission that 7,000 pubs in a mixture of managed and tenanted operations is not the way to go and that there is a world of difference between management and entrepreneurship. Punch doesn't want lifestyle operators any more and hurrah for that; they were only trying to nick all their savings anyway so let's get those freeholds sold to individual entrepreneurs who can make a difference and move forward with managers and tenancies in the way being described.

Chris Moore from S&N Pub Company had some good ideas in thinking of the pub as not work and not home, but the third place and how to add on extra little bits of profit, especially with Wi-fi, coffee and pies.

Jonathan Paveley, executive chairman of Admiral Taverns, impressed me with his report on progress at Admiral and description of Admiral's move to a de-geared company with freehold community pubs. He is going against the tide of current trends but from what he said he may be on the winner's podium at next year's Olympic swimming events. Presentations by Charles Wells and Hall & Woodhouse were also pleasing on the ear. If only other senior figures in the industry were as forward-thinking as Matt Kearsey of Hall & Woodhouse, we might see the hard work of Peter Thomas and Frances Patten in training and development translated into the brave new pub of the future.

Both Neil Robertson of the BII and Phil Dixon objected to being caricatured as policeman. In many ways Neil summed up the day with his report which suggested that progress was likely to be good enough to satisfy BISC and if we kept making progress the industry would probably be allowed to self-regulate to prevent future abuses. It would also mean an industry that genuinely progressed, possibly even dragging itself into the 21st century.

So maybe the BII should not be caricatured as the industry's policeman but possibly the firm but fair parent or head teacher. There's a Granny Smith for you next time I'm in class, boys.

Only the Q & A session seemed to make any reference to what I felt were the elephants in the room. When £45,000 per annum earnings including 10,000 live-in allowance is the aspiration, how on earth do you get entrepreneurial individuals rather than lifestyle operators?

How do you look forward so positively when for the customers - tenants and lessees as pubco customers, as well as their customers who we all want in droves in our pubs - discretionary spending is shrinking fast, the feel good factor has become a feel fear factor and the nasty whiff of past misdemeanors hangs in the air like acrid smoke over a plastic bonfire?

Roger Whiteside and Simon Emeny gave the impression that they understood rather more than Nick Light who reminded me of New Labour's Alastair Campbell, trying to manipulate the news rather than listen to what change is needed.

Without last year's jovial banter between Ted and Greg there wasn't the frisson of excitement with which last year's Summit concluded, but it was nevertheless an interesting day for an ageing publican who frequently puts the sin into cynical.

Gerry Price is licensee of Inn@West End, Woking, Surrey. He is a former finalist of the BII Licensee of the Year.

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