Why Robinsons is a real Trooper

By Gary Lloyd contact

- Last updated on GMT

Northern powerhouse: Robinsons is based in Stockport, Greater Manchester
Northern powerhouse: Robinsons is based in Stockport, Greater Manchester

Related tags: Branding + marketing, Beer, Cask ale, Craft beer, Pubco + head office, Tenanted + leased

Independent family brewer and pub operator Frederic Robinson, or better known simply as Robinsons, has been running from its Stockport base for more than 180 years.

Robinsons in numbers and initiatives

Total number of pubs in estate

260

Total number of tenanted and leased pubs

237

Number of new tenants/lessees taking on sites in past year?

26

Average length of tenant/lessee tenure?

7.0 years

Best initiatives launched to support tenants in past five years:

  • Pubhub facebook group – through the first lockdown, Robinsons focused on this and grew membership to 411 – this is for tenants and staff to share ideas, advice and update each other as a private group
  • Zoom webinars – used several times for directors and the Covid team to present key issues and take questions
  • Lockdown support team – key senior managers from each department with contact details
  • Lockdown grant application support – dedicated resource to liaise with tenants and local authorities
  • Bi-weekly newsletters sharing support guides, good news and best practice – sharing application links, key contacts and good news
  • Track and trade through its Wi-Fi provider Evolve – quickly enhanced to mean the business had the technology for the 200 pubs that use its preferred Wi-Fi source
  • Hopnik Citra keg IPA brought to market quickly meaning long-life keg ale was available to replace dwindling hand-pull numbers
  • ‘Assisted finance’ for capex schemes, which is a loan scheme for fixtures and fittings.

The company operates 260 pubs, inns and hotels across the north-west of England and north Wales. It began with the purchase of the Unicorn pub in Lower Hillgate, Stockport, in 1838 by William Robinson and its first ale was brewed in 1849 under the stewardship of William’s brother George.

William’s son, Frederic, took over the pub in 1859 and expands the business with a warehouse purchase nearby for greater brewing production. By 1878, the business has 12 pubs.

Between 1908 and 1933, new bottling premises are purchased and a new brewhouse is built, leading the way to expansion into Wales in 1943. Fast forward to 2010 and Robinsons makes a £7m investment into a new brewhouse. A tie-up with heavy metal legends Iron Maiden takes place in 2013 that leads to the famous Trooper beer being brewed. In 2015, Robinsons makes a return to operating managed sites.

On the subject of plans for developing further tenant/lessee support in the future. Robinsons said: “Last year saw a great acceleration of technology development by us and adoption by the pubs. This is most apparent in the managed pubs where we now have some great learnings we need to share and encourage tenanted traction. Our pub re-segmentation introduces seven trading types and 10 consumer types, but it is suddenly out of date and we need to develop this with CGA, and get the latest consumer trends to our licensees.

“In early December 2020, we relaunched the tenanted websites and the Robinsons corporate website following a £200,000 investment. Nearly 200 of our tenanted pubs use this service and we need to ensure they are well presented, and licensees continue to learn how to use all digital platforms to communicate with customers. The pandemic has shown how important a good database or Facebook following is for this.”

Main strengths of tenanted/leased business

The Greater Manchester-based firm also stated its main strengths as a tenanted/leased pub company. It said being an independent family-run business has put it in a strong financial position with size being core to its success. During the past two years, it had allowed the business to continue to invest for the long term and means it “will invest in pubs that others would not”.

Robinsons added that, in normal times, its business development manager (BDM) to pubs ratio is 1:47 and with strong support in retail marketing; food development; in-house customer services, distribution and cellar services; digital support; and in-house design among others. It added: “While being a vertically integrated brewer that invests in future beer trends, we also have a strong drinks range with great own beers, a full range of factored beers and our own-sourced wines.”

Its draught beer range includes Unicorn: a 4.2% ABV premium ale, Dizzy Blonde: a 3.8% ABV Amarillo pale ale, Hopnik Citra IPA at 4.7% ABV, barley ale Old Tom at 8.5% ABV, its Trooper premium ale at 4.7% ABV and a nitro version at the same strength.

RESIZEDbrandlineupRobinsons

The achievements made by the company in the difficult past two years are something Robinsons said is a “something we are very proud of”. It explained: “We approached the pandemic with a ‘how will we look back on this in five years’ time?’ mindset and have consistently supported tenants, cut our cloth accordingly and protected the long-term stability of the business.

“We are among a few companies that charged no rent for the whole of the first lockdown and followed this with a gradual return to normal before the second lockdown returned us to 10% of the norm. We went the extra mile by taking the beer destruction challenge away from the pubs and used our own tech services team to deal with this.”

In September this year, Robinsons took part in a pint giveaway during cask ale week​. The project saw 500 pints handed out for free in the final week of the month. While a few months earlier, the business revealed it had paid more in tax last year than it received in Government support​. The business, led by cousins William and Oliver Robinson, said while financial support received from the UK Government was “greatly appreciated”, it was keen to point out that despite being forced to close its pubs in support of the national coronavirus effort, it still paid more to the UK government in taxes than it received. The group received a total of £5.1m of support in the year and paid a total of £7.6m through taxation.

Interest in running its pubs

Confirming its commitment to the industry during the Covid period, Robinsons said, in May this year, it had invested millions, which included 20 refurbishments since the pandemic began​ and added it had a large amount of interest from people wanting to run its pubs too.

In December 2019, Robinsons announced it had acquired six-strong Individual Inns​. The move pushed its managed estate up to 20 sites and provided the business with its first site in Yorkshire as well as strengthening its portfolio in Cumbria. In August 2019, Robinsons acquired the Sweetenham Arms​. Robinsons joint managing director William Robinson said at the time: “The Cunningham family have built a strong business with an excellent reputation and we look forward to building on that success when we add the Sweetenham Arms to our collection of managed pubs and inns at the end of August.” In the same year, it announced a record turnover of £75.5m​. It reported a rise in turnover of 6.1% to £75.5m for the year ending 31 December 2018 – up from £71.2m the previous year while its profit before tax more than doubled from £3.2m in 2017 to £7.1m in 2018.

Robinsons concluded: “Over the past five years, our Trooper beer has seen massive growth and has sold over 30 million pints around the world. We have also introduced new beers such as Helles and Hopnik Citra. We also brought back Dizzy Blonde in bottle with a fresh new look.”

It added success has also been gained through awards for its beers including a Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Golden Award, which marked 50 years of CAMRA’s campaigns. It won six awards at the British Bottlers’ Institute (BBI) awards in August this year and was also shortlisted for The Publican Awards twice.
The brewery’s board has recently undergone a restructure, creating new roles and opportunities within the business since Covid.

Robinsons said: “We are heavily invested in our estate and are always looking to recruit potential licensees and general managers to run our pubs. Robinsons is committed to offering sustainable pub tenancy opportunities. Robinsons’ strategy remains to invest in its pubs (tenanted and managed), to strengthen its award-winning estate. Since 2015, we have worked on more than 150 pub refurbishments in our estate of 260 pubs and will continue to make such investments in our pubs across the north-west and north Wales.”

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