Urban big on expansion but there’s time for fun

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Urban legends: the business has 20 sites but all offer something different to each other
Urban legends: the business has 20 sites but all offer something different to each other

Related tags: Multiple operators

Six years ago, Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap started Urban Pubs & Bars and, since then, expansion has been the name of the game but fun is also always on the cards.

Urban Pubs & Bars and its 540-strong team have gone from strength to strength since its inception during the past six years.

Urban is the second business Malcom Heap and Nick Pring grew and developed having sold their previous business, Realpubs, to Greene King in 2011.

Unlike Realpubs, which was one of the first multiple gastropub businesses, Urban Pubs & Bars is an eclectic mix of operations. Being self-funded and independently owned by Heap and Pring meant they could explore operating all sorts of different businesses.

Pring said: “We have bought anything where we felt there was an opportunity to make some money and have some fun. Consequently, we have a very broad portfolio ranging from traditional pubs, to late-night bars, from pizza restaurants to premium tapas bars and from slick City operations to a 12,000sq ft experiential table tennis venue in a shopping centre.”

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Variety of formats

When it comes to the secrets to the company’s success, Pring outlines how being adaptable is key to business.

He adds: “We are passionate about hospitality and are always looking for perfection. Of course, nobody ever achieves perfection but culturally, as a company, we are always asking our teams ‘how can we do it better?’ There is always somebody doing it better down the road, never think you have all the answers because this business moves and evolves so quickly. That’s what makes it such an exciting space to operate in.”

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing as juggling multiple sites with different offers can present difficulties.

Pring added: “Our biggest challenge in this business has been how to successfully operate so many different formats and offers – we have 20 sites and many of them are totally different to one another.

“We have Well St Pizza in Hackney, east London, community locals, destination gastropubs, competitive socialising at Bat & Ball, and Bib Gourmand dining in Salt Yard Group.

“A lot of different styles of businesses and offers, all of which we want to execute to the highest possible standards. Operating so many different formats is what really appeals to our entrepreneurial nature because there are so many different challenges to think about.

“The core of our business remains well-run pubs offering a good standard of food but this core gives us the platform to explore some of these other opportunities.”

Urban Pubs & Bars’ sites

The Whippet Inn, Kensal Rise, north-west London

The Old Ship, Hackney, east London

The Lord Wargrave, Marylebone, west London

The Rose, New Cross, south-east London

The Wheatsheaf, Tooting Bec, south London

Well Street Pizza, Hackney, east London

The Bat & Ball, Westfield Stratford, east London

The Royal Oak, Harlesden, north-west London

The White Lion, Stroud Green, north London

The Gatehouse, Highgate, north London

Paradise by way of Kensal Green, north-west London

Neighbour, Kentish Town, north-west London

The Punch Tavern, Fleet Street, City of London

Opera Tavern, Covent Garden, west London

Salt Yard, Fitzrovia, west London

Dehesa, Carnaby Street, west London

Ember Yard, Soho, central London

Juno Rooms, Watling Street, City of London

The Cyclist, Balham, south-west London

Bar Kick, Shoreditch, east London

Picking the right sites

But with challenges comes the prospect of opportunity and expansion for this virile business.

“The biggest opportunity, at the moment, is undoubtedly picking through the vast quantities of sites that are coming on the market. There are some very rich pickings for companies such as ours that are in a very positive cash-flow situation,” Pring said.

“The skill is to know the market and pick the right sites, in the right location at the right price. That may sound obvious but there are a number of very good operators out there that have got one or all of those aforementioned bits wrong and the results can be disastrous.”

Continuing the positive theme, Pring highlighted how setting up a business with his partner and ensuring its success is up there with achievements.

He added: “To grow a company from scratch to turning over in excess of £30m in the space of six short years is something we are both very proud of, especially when we look at the incredible team that we have now put together.

“Having the sites is only part of the achievement, you need the people to operate them and make them profitable and people wise, we have the best of the best.”

For other operators looking to take the step to become multiple, Pring advised how devolving responsibility and powering teams makes the journey to expand rewarding.

He said: “We gain the most satisfaction out of growing the business. This time round it is up to our operations team to really run it.”

Related topics: MA500 Business Club

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