The Morning Advertiser reported Marston’s sold 137 pubs to Admiral Taverns for £44.9m earlier this month (November), taking Admiral’s portfolio to more than 1,000 sites.
This disposal is in line with Marston’s plans to slash its debt of £200m by 2023, in part through the removal of certain non-core assets. Smaller wet-led leased, tenanted and franchised pubs will be disposed of, with the deal expected to complete before the end of November.
This followed the Admiral’s acquisition of 150 sites from Star Pubs & Bars in September.
On the latest acquisition, Jowsey told The Morning Advertiser: “I'm wary of numbers to a degree but the philosophy would be to get to somewhere between 1,500 and possibly 2,000 at the top end.
“But we won't do that in a hurry and it has got to be the right pubs, at the right price and the right time with the opportunities to grow with licensees. That's really important. I wouldn't want to go too big.
“I like that there aren't many layers in our business and I don't want us to be so large we are distant from our licensees.
“There is definitely a limit in my head but we would like to grow to about 1,500 over the next, couple of years, maybe three years. But it has got to be the right pubs, at the right price, and the right opportunities.”
However, Jowsey was firm that the new sites won’t impact the existing licensees in the Admiral portfolio.
He added: “[The acquisition] shouldn't really impact the current Admiral licensees in any negative way. We work really hard with the licensees to make sure we have a proper partnership and we work together to grow their businesses.
“We have a track record of doing that, having won Best Leased and Tenanted Pub Company multiple times, so the industry recognises we work really hard on our reputation and work really hard to make sure we can help those licensees grow.
“Besides the two acquisitions, we have already committed £6m worth of investment in our existing estate in the past six months.”
For the licensees joining Admiral, Jowsey outlined the help and support available to them once the acquisition has completed.
He said: “We are quite busy integrating and working with new licensees. As we speak, we are having the first meetings with new licensees from Marston's this week.
“All of our BDMs are out there working really hard already with their counterparts in Marston's.”
The Admiral boss laid out how, after two years of no acquisitions, two took place in a short period of time.
Jowsey said: “We have made no secret of our ambitions to grow Admiral Taverns. We are fortunate in that we have two really supportive investors in Proprium Capital and C&C.
“It's a couple of years since we have made any acquisitions so we were keen to grow where we can because scale is important to our efficiency, but it has got to be the right kind of acquisition at the right price.
“It's a bit like buses. You don't do anything for a while and then all of a sudden, two really spot-on opportunities come along at the same time.
“We bought the 150 from Heineken (Star Pubs & Bars) and now we are about to buy 137 from Marston's. We had an inkling they might be coming (137 pubs from Marston's) and in an ideal world you would have a bit of a separation between the two but effectively they both happened at once, more or less.
“We thought that might happen so we geared ourselves up to be able to make the acquisitions, but only because they're the right ones for us rather than the only two in town.”
When it comes to integrating the new sites into the existing portfolio, Admiral has drafted in external expertise.
Jowsey said: “Of the 137 in Marston's estate, there's about 43 that are currently tenanted or leased, so they will come straight across into the Admiral family. We will operate those going forward in the way we operate the rest of our existing estate. The remaining 90-odd are operating under the franchise agreement Marston's had. They have a managed operator who takes a percentage of the turnover.
“That is why we have partnered with Helen Standing, who has got some fantastic experience. She worked for Amber Taverns and helped develop Craft Union for Ei Group, so she has got fantastic experience of working with those kind of operators and those kind of pubs.
“She and her team are going to help us with the 90-odd franchised pubs to get them into Admiral, but not change the way they operate.
“Get through the critical Christmas period and that gives us a little bit of time to evaluate long-term plans for each of those pubs, and talk to the licensees about what they want and how we can work together to develop the pub.”
In terms of the future Jowsey said there wasn’t anything imminent on the horizon, but that the group was always on the lookout for possible opportunities.