Back by popular demand: how upcycling can help your pub

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Business opportunity: 'A refurbishment and subsequent relaunch of a pub can give a property a new lease of life and can result in a significant value uplift for the operator' says Savills' Kevin Marsh
Business opportunity: 'A refurbishment and subsequent relaunch of a pub can give a property a new lease of life and can result in a significant value uplift for the operator' says Savills' Kevin Marsh
Upcycling projects can help pubs reduce their environmental footprint, restore a site’s character and increase the value of a business

While a lot of upcycled furniture may have started its journey to your pub in a scrapheap or a salvage yard, with the right care and usage it can add value to your business.

Savills head of licensed leisure Kevin Marsh explains: “Many pubs are in older buildings or the landlord wants to create the cosy atmosphere that many expect when visiting their local. With this in mind, upcycled furniture can add a real sense of authenticity.

“Providing good quality recycled furniture can be big business for many and demand for reconditioned or recovered furniture doesn’t show any signs of slowing.

“Fire regulations are an important consideration and acquiring pieces from reputable companies while confirming any upholstery meets the necessary standards is a must.

“A refurbishment and subsequent relaunch of a pub can give a property a new lease of life and can result in a significant value uplift for the operator. The property values of a pub are based on the inherent business, so if a successful refurbishment has taken place and that increases trade, this will have a positive impact on the value of the asset. A landlord may also be able to attract a new tenant with a refurbishment.”

However, Marsh urges caution, as a poorly executed revamp can have an adverse effect.

“There are still pitfalls to navigate,” he warns.

“The new furniture or ­fit-out will need to be sympathetic to the property’s character, and a small misjudgement with the lighting or décor can prove to be a blow to the business.”

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Variations on a theme

Lee Richards, founder of Derbyshire-based upcycling lighting and furniture company Upcycled Creative, highlights that the growth of industrial and vintage themes in pub décor has increased demand for bespoke, upcycled items.

Yet despite many venues striving for a reasonably similar raw aesthetic, Richards explains that pubs are regularly in the market for unique wall décor, seating and light ­fittings that can grab a customer’s attention.

“Everybody wants to be different from the place just up the road, or if it’s a group, a sister pub,” he explains.

“Say for example one pub had their bar built out of reclaimed sleepers, another might wonder if they could use something like pallets instead or galvanised metal sheets. It’s about having something that people will go away and talk about – like beer kegs cut down as urinals.”

Richards explains that objects he’s been able to acquire from a range of contacts made since founding Upcycled Creative in 2012 – including an acquaintance at Network Rail as a source of items including cable drums and railway sleepers – help operators cement a pub’s character, often riffing on a venue or publican’s past.

As an example, he explains: “Somebody might come to me and say ‘I want to kit this out – the pub’s called the Railway Inn so they want to keep it railway themed’. We can go down that route and use things like railway sleepers, panelling off a railway carriage, etc...

“I’ve just done another job – they’re farmers traditionally and started off as a microbrewery, so they’ve opened a bar with it as well now. She has just brought in some old glass milk parlour pots which I’m converting to go into the bar. It’s a link back to them.”

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Health and safety

However, with installing quirky and ambitious upcycled furniture in public spaces comes a need to ensure customer safety. Therefore commercial upcycling projects often aren’t as zany as ones for the home.

“You usually get wild and wacky ideas from individual private customers rather than bars,” he says. “I’ve got a grand piano that’s just arrived all the way from Belgium. The grandad of the lady who owns it has died and she’s had it shipped over. I’ve now got to convert it so it can go on the wall of her apartment in London as a shelving and drinks type unit – taking a grand piano from sitting on the floor to going upright on the wall.

“Pubs are commercial businesses that incorporate a health and safety element. The public are using the premises, so, as much as they’d like to be very risky with some stuff, they can’t always do it because they’ve got another side of the business to think about as well.”

Health and safety

Sourcing authentic items

Fuller, Smith & Turner design and developments manager Andrew Durn views upcycled objects as a means of emphasising authenticity throughout the company’s estate. “With regards to furniture, lighting, bric-a-brac – the customer’s touch and feel element – we try to be as authentic as we can.

“We try to utilise original pieces. You go into a lot of pubs and there’s a very generic photocopied image on the wall in a nice frame, and it all looks very pretty. But then you walk in a pub down the road and the exact same picture is there. We try to source authentic, original pieces – some of those are new, some of those are various amounts of years old depending on the age of the pub and the concept we’re trying to deliver to the customer – we scour the market.

“With old furniture we have a couple of companies that go out and source furniture for us from various places like second-hand markets and importers – there are lot of companies importing from France and Belgium.” Durn outlines that the pub company employs a strategy to recycle furniture to keep cost and environmental impact to a minimum.

“When we do strip a pub out to refurbish it, all of our furniture goes back to a storage place linked to a company that we use called Plant Republic based up in Birmingham. They store it, recover it, recycle it, refurbish it, do whatever’s needed.

“A chair might come out of one pub this month when we close it for refurbishment, then three or four months later it’ll be painted, refurbished and put back into another pub on another scheme, or equally back into the pub it came out of.

“At Plant Republic we’ve got about four containers that have a continuous array of furniture that comes and goes. That helps with our tenancy refurbishments as well as our managed estate refurbishments.

“It’s cost-effective for us, but it also means we’re not scrapping furniture just because we’re refurbishing a pub. We send them all off, refinish them and use them again.”

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‘Home’ quality

Durn adds: “Probably on a weekly basis we get an enquiry from a customer about a light fitting, chair, table, piece of bric-a-brac that we’ve got, asking where they can source and buy it. I think that shows we’re not only putting in desirable pieces, but also the right quality.

“People see that the quality we have in our pubs is the quality they want in their houses, offices or wherever they might be buying it for.

“I think customers can see we’re not taking a mainstream, cookie-cutter style approach to our design. Everything is thought through.”

To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site​.

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