Charles Wells to double size of UK managed estate

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Importance of staff: Charles Wells is hot on training at all of its 23 pubs
Importance of staff: Charles Wells is hot on training at all of its 23 pubs
Last year saw Charles Wells move forward with a huge rise in profit and a dedication to investment. The group reveals what is in store over the next 12 months

Bedford-based operator Charles Wells has seen a strong 2018 with a bright future ahead of it too.

Following the sales of its brewery in Bedford to Marston’s in 2017, where Marston’s acquired the brewing business and beer distribution rights for £55m, the financial year up to September 2018 has seen Charles Wells experience a 226.9% increase in profit before tax to £4.6m and a 29.3% rise in underlying operating profit to £5m.

Across these 12 months, the group continued to invest, undertaking 13 developments totalling £2.3m.

It also added three Pizza, Pots & Pints-branded pubs; opened the Bull Hotel in Olney, Buckinghamshire; and acquired two more pubs in France; bringing its managed portfolio in the UK and France to 23 pubs.

Accidental discovery

On the subject of Pizza, Pots & Pints, commercial director of the business, Peter Wells previously told The Morning Advertiser​ about the future plans for this area of the company.

He says: “A lot of the Pizza, Pots & Pints sites are in backstreet areas and are there for people to discover almost by accident. We’re looking to acquire as many venues for these as we can lay our hands on, and that’s a key part of our [growth] strategy.”

In July last year, the brewco acquired its fourth venue in the chain and has doubled the estate within two years.

In August 2018, the operator announced it was investing €9m (£8m) into the growth of its French estate of managed pubs until 2021.

The announcement came after a successful World Cup in the country with an 83% sales uplift on the same period last year.

Virtually no debt

Some 176,000 pints were sold in the month of the tournament, including 20,180 pints on the day of the final match, which was a Sunday.

Charles Wells chief executive Justin Phillimore looks back at the previous 12 months and ahead to what the future could bring for the company.

He says: “Last year saw us making the transition from a largely branded oriented business to a service-focused pub company that is fit to deliver strong growth for the future.

“We have made a large investment in our pub training and apprenticeship programmes as well as in systems in order to support our growth plans for the future.

“Highlights for the year include some truly excellent developments, recognition at the industry training awards for the quality of our Best in Glass training programme, and the recruitment of some excellent new pub partners.

“With virtually no debt, we are in a very strong position to continue to invest in the UK and France behind our managed pubs and in our pub partners’ businesses.

“We are actively looking for acquisition opportunities within the East Midlands, East Anglia and the Home Counties and to recruit great staff to work in them. We also continue to look for the best pub partners to work and invest with.”

Brewery application

Looking at 2018, Charles Wells also saw turnover on continuing operations rise by 8.6% to £43m, investment in leased and tenanted pubs to £2.3m as well as the Pizza, Pots & Pints estate – the main driver of the company’s managed house expansion strategy – doubling in size to six pubs.

Charles Wells’ pub partners team also achieved nationwide acclaim, winning Best Training Programme (leased and tenanted) for its Best in Glass beer quality training scheme.

In March last year, Charles Wells announced its plans to build a 30,000hl brewery, worth £13m, in Bedford.

The operator says it had submitted a planning application to the local council to build the brewery, a visitor centre and an on-site pub and event space.

­The Fairhill brewery will be built just off the A6 in Bedford, giving the company access to major roads to better supply its leased, tenanted and managed house estates in England and France.

Wells previously said: “­The key thing for the new brewery is that runs will be much smaller so we can be more flexible and deliver popular beer styles and create new ones.” He continued: “We want to ensure our pubs have as much choice as possible and our brewery is for them, to give them a point of difference from competing pubs.”

Confidence in great pubs

However, Phillimore outlines how, with the next few months being a little rocky, Charles Wells will remain strong when it comes to brewing and with its pub estate.

He says: “While the future will continue to remain uncertain for some time, we are con dent great pubs will continue to thrive and we are well positioned to grow over the next 12 months.

“We are more conscious than ever that our success rests on that of our pub partners and, as such, we will continue to prioritise tailored support and investment into their pubs.

“We plan to once again double the size of our UK managed estate, are actively hunting for more great French sites and, of course, are excited to return to brewing when our new flagship brewery in Bedford reaches completion in early 2020.”

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