With pubs vanishing from British high streets at a rate of knots and thousands of buildings that used to play host to bustling drinking scenes now merely boarded up and hollowed-out shells, the sector’s prospects can look bleak to those inside and outside of the trade.
However, there have been considerable investments made into pub sites in the past 24 months, including huge cash injections this year.
Between three of the biggest pubcos – Star Pubs and Bars, Ei Group, and Greene King – a combined total of around £595m capex investments have been made over the past 24 months.
Star Pubs & Bars
On acquiring a large chunk of Punch’s portfolio in 2017, Star Pubs & Bars became the third largest owner/operator in the UK, with plans to inject more funds into sites across the country in the months ahead.
Star invested £35m in its estate in 2019 by the end of July, with 99 pubs treated to major refurbishments as part of that expenditure.
The company’s total investment programme for 2019 is £50m. This is a new record for the business and a momentum that has been carried on from the previous year, in which £44m was invested, with 140 pubs treated to significant revamps.
David Forde, managing director of Heineken UK, owner of Star Pubs & Bars, told The Morning Advertiser: “We believe in the great British pub.
“We’ve invested just shy of £200m in the past six years into hundreds of our businesses – all with bespoke refurbishments that respect the heritage of the buildings, keep the soul of the pub, and give a fresh and welcoming look for its locals.
“We are in the business to keep pubs open and thriving, providing a boost to the local community.”
Ei Group has invested £80m into its business each year for the past three financial years. The pubco, which is the UK’s largest at over 4,000 sites, is set to be sold to Stonegate for £1.3bn pending clearance from shareholders and competition authorities.
Craig Gresham, property director for its managed operations, said the Ei wanted to grow its managed pub estate to between 110 and 125 pubs per year.
“We are hoping that we will have around the region of 600 pubs by the end of the next financial year, so by September 2020,” he said.
Investment into its managed operation includes £50m into wet-led chain Craft Union over the past four years.
Ongoing projects include an investment of more than £1.5m into the transformation of a Grade II-listed building in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The site will also host the Craft Union Pub Company support team with a training suite and meeting facilities.
“I think that's a really good investment by the group and it is making sure we are staying true to our northern roots as well,” Gresham said.
Richard Hallam, property director at Ei publican partnerships, said 386 projects had received investments of more than £200,000 this financial year – a total of around £18.3m.
He said: “The average investment into our pubs is around £470,000 on those sites, so we are touching a large proportion of our estate and the intention is to grow the amount of pubs we touch with investment by keeping our investments to a relatively modest level.
“So while we do invest at a significant level, the high-value project, we also invest quite widely in our modest projects as well, to try and keep our pubs in good condition.”
Another pub giant that has been keen to make investments in its core estate, despite turbulent market factors, is Bury St Edmunds-based Greene King. It spent a combined £356m in the previous financial years.
The company spent £193m in the 2018 financial year, including core capital expenditure, new builds, brand conversions and freehold reversion purchases.
It said it spent £163m in 2019, including several significant investments in north-west England so far.
Greene King Pub Partners invested £350,000 in revamping a site in Blackpool – the Burlington pub was reopened under the name the Spen Dyke, with a revamp that paid tribute to its historic relationship with the nearby Arnold School.
Soon to be the largest pub owner in the UK following an announcement it would buy Ei Group’s pubs, Stonegate was unable to say how much it had invested into its present portfolio of 760 sites.
The company’s chief executive Simon Longbottom told The Morning Advertiser (MA), Stonegate was prepared to pump money into all aspects of Ei Group’s estate across its tenanted, leased and managed sites.
The acquisition would mean the Slug & Lettuce and Be At One owner would take on Ei Group’s 4,000 sites.
Elsewhere, Wolverhampton-based pub operator Marston’s spent £74.4m in the 26 weeks ending 30 March 2019, including £27.1m on new pubs and bars.
The pubco expects capital expenditure to be around £130m in 2019, including around £50m on new-build sites. This is a £33m reduction on expenditure relative to 2018.
Its CEO Ralph Findlay told The Morning Advertiser it would open nine new pub-restaurants and add three new sites to its accommodation offer by the end of 2019.
Most of this £130m will be fed into the company’s managed pub estate.
It currently has more than 1,500 sites including 15 former Mitchells & Butlers pubs acquired in September 2018, which received a combined total of £4m refurbishment investment.
Mitchells and Butlers
Operators Mitchells and Butlers – the chain behind brands including All Bar One, Toby Carvery, and Harvester – also had a reduced capex figure compared to last year’s similar trading period.
Capital expenditure for the 28 weeks ending 13 April 2019 was £90m, compared to £104m in 2018.
This included two new site openings and 206 conversions and remodels.
In 2018, its acquisitions focused on premium sites, including the opening of four Miller & Carter sites, two All Bar Ones and one Toby Carvery.
It completed 232 remodels and conversions in the 2018 financial year.