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Inn Collection Group managing director Sean Donkin, Loungers founder and chairman Alex Reilley and new pubco Valiant CEO Gerry Carroll revealed at The Morning Advertiser’s MA500 virtual conference (Thursday 11 February) exactly how they have done this.
Inn Collection had a year of record growth in 2020, making eight acquisitions and growing its estate to 19 sites.
Sean Donkin said: “We have managed to do a series of quick acquisitions at the back end of this year, managed to transact on eight different sites and looking to do a bit more in the next month of two and over this year.”
Loungers boss Alex Reilley outlined how the opportunities that have come about with regards to acquisitions has impacted the business.
He added: “We have got probably the best quality of sites in our pipeline to have to open in our history. It would be irresponsible for us to invest when there’s so much uncertainty.”
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On this note, the operators discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the property sector and empty sites.
Donkin said: “A lot of sites we have acquired are not as a result of the pandemic, they had always been target sites for us. The closure [periods] in 2020 and 2021 has meant we have focused on those transactions and get them over the line. The time to buy new sites and develop them. They are going to close at some point to refurbish so we have taken the decision to use this time to do this.
“We haven’t bought anything discounted yet but the pandemic has put into people’s mind, the focus of where they sit in the life cycle of their sites and has brought to us sites that have previously been unobtainable.”
Valiant Pub Company’s Gerry Carroll looked back on the impact the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 had on the industry and compared it to the current pandemic.
“The last time I was trying to raise money to set up a business was in 2013, setting up Hawthorn in 2014. It was difficult to raise money at that time," he said.
“Some seven years after smoking ban and financial crash, it was still difficult. I started to talk to investors just after Covid started and they asked if consumers would be too frightened to come back to pubs and restaurants."
Carroll added: “Then the opening in July which was really successful, the industry did themselves proud. The sales rebounded almost straight away.
“As I continue to have the conversation with potential investors, they had confidence that when the market opens up again it would be a good place to invest in."
Carroll went on to say he expects that once the trade has reopened, there will be an influx of empty properties on the market.
He added: “The appetite now compared to 2013, there seems to be more to invest in hospitality. The industry is going to need, certain parts are going to need to be capitalised on and it’s positive we have
“I haven’t seen prices collapse anywhere, if anything there’s a dearth of assets, traditional pub assets, I’m looking at pubs there’s not that many on the market at the moment. People are holding back as they feel they are trying to sell assets at the moment.
“I do think that will change quick rapidly after opening and there will be a lot of properties on the market. Freehold assets, not every landlord has been supportive with pub operators and restaurant operators and as soon as the rent moratorium ends that could be quite horrible.”