Reporting a 4.1% rise in like-for-like sales in its Destination and Premium arm for the 41 weeks to 19 July, the company described the impact of the World Cup as “broadly neutral”.
“There was a growth in wet, a decline in food,” Findlay told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s sister title M&C Report. “Overall we were up in lfl terms over the World Cup but not by as much as we had been before. It was okay, but it just wasn’t fantastic.”
He added: “There was a straight forward correlation between business and England matches. Unfortunately because England went home before closing time, so did customers. There was a lot of interest in the Italy game, a bit less in the Uruguay game and a lot less in the Costa Rica game. It fizzled out during the week.
“I think more and more customers are looking at these events from the comfort of their own home and the importance of sport on TV to pubs in not what it used to be. For certain types of pubs, particularly the family dining places we’ve got, it is generally a negative.”
Findlay linked this trend to the 10% growth in off-trade volumes during the World Cup in its brewing arm. “I would imagine that most brewers had a very strong June,” he stated.
Regarding the current state of the pub property market, Findlay said: “I think for buyers the days of snapping up real bargains are disappearing fast.” He cited the level of competition from other buyers including those that want to convert outlets to alternative use.
He said Marston’s would continue to look at opportunities for sale and leaseback deals as part of its newbuild expansion programme; the company said it remains on track to complete 27 new-build pub restaurants in the current financial year.
Marston’s recently agreed a £28m forward-funding deal with Standard Life to as part of its newbuild pub expansion programme. Findlay said it offers low-cost fixed financing over a long period of time with no covenant reporting obligations and is a “really flexible way of raising capital”.
It also gives Marston’s the option to buy back the freehold at a later date. “The reason that we’re able to do that is that the lending market, particularly some of these pension fund investors, really like the assets. They understand the model really well, and they’re prepared to put the money up for a very long period of time. It’s been a fantastic source of capital for us.”
Findlay said he was “not specifically” looking to buy pubs in London, where there has been recent high-profile pub sales including Fullers’ acquisition of the Harp in Covent Garden for a figure understood to be c£7m, and Spirit’s sale of the Black Lion in Bayswater Road for £27m.
“The London market is obviously strong but there’s a cost of entry that goes along with that, which you’ve got to think carefully about - nor would we rule it out.
“Our expansion is in two main strands - the first is finding new freehold sites for building new family restaurants, the other is finding leasehold sites for Pitcher & Piano and possibly Revere. Those could be in London just as easily as they could be anywhere else; they’re not geographically specific, but we’re very happy to look wherever there’s opportunities.”
Findlay said it’s too early to properly assess the impact of Garden Grill Company, the pop-up style barbecue concept being introduced at some of its pubs. Alluding to other recent developments in the estate such as the introduction of ice cream parlours at its Taverns arm and pizza oven at Revere, he said: “I think what it does represent is a greater level of creativity and thinking about how we can provide customers with what they want in this environment.
“It’s just looking at how you can do things differently with a bit more theatre and a bit more interest to consumers.”