Currently, the multi-site business operates 20 Heartwood Inns and 14 Brasserie Blanc restaurants across England.
Just last month (July), the company confirmed it had secured additional funding to help support its rollout of freehold pubs and accommodation.
The plans include expanding the estate to 60 sites in the next four years and to provide a number of boutique bedrooms in the same time period.
Following its rebrand earlier this year (June), Heartwood Collection managing director Richard Ferrier discussed the reasons behind its new look and its future plans.
Ferrier tells The Morning Advertiser: “Having taken investment, one of the key things we always felt [was] we had this lovely pubco, White Brasserie Company, but we hadn't really spent a huge amount of time to ever embed proper brand pillars.
“When you take investment, as we have done, it shows you that we're about to invest and open lots more pubs, we should be very clear about what it is we're trying to do and who we're doing it for.
“We started off by doing a really deep dive piece of consumer research, including focus groups with quantitative and qualitative research, lots of different ways on thousands of people to try and understand what the pubs meant to them.”
The research delved into pubgoers’ opinions on individual pubs and the company as a whole and what was more important to them.
He adds: “We found people were much more excited about their local pub. They didn't really know or want to know about what the White Brasserie was and what it stood for.
“We felt now as we move [more] into pubs, we weren’t sensitive to changing a name, we felt we could do with a consumer facing pub brand where it becomes more important when you go into rooms.”
The aim is to encourage guests visiting the pubs to stay in the accommodation the business is set to offer.
Stamp of quality
Ferrier adds: “Having the overarching brand that sits above that, gives a stamp of quality [and] will become more and more important as we move into rooms and as we develop the pubco.”
When it comes to the new name itself, the fact it represents the strongest part of the tree was an important aspect to the business.
Furthermore, Heartwood Collection began as a rebrand for the pubs but this was then changed and it became the name of the whole company.
“Brasserie Bar Co didn’t mean anything to anybody, not at least me. We felt it was quite a nice time to do it,” Ferrier said.
“It symbolises the kind of the business we were trying to be, the business we are today, which is quite different from the one that formed those two names 10 years ago. More than anything, it symbolises the move into rooms and that big investment we're making in pubs of with rooms this year.
“It has been a year's worth of work by the team, we've had people involved in all levels of our business. Each of the characters that you see, the illustrations, they represent a different aspect of the personality of our business.”
As this is the company’s first foray into accommodation, Ferrier outlined businesses in the sector that he looked to for inspiration.
He says: “There are some very good operators in our sector that have transitioned into rooms very well.
“Young’s and Fuller's to name two are very long standing businesses that have both been very successful in making that shift. Other businesses we really like are The Pig, obviously, who doesn't?”
However, keeping that food focus remains key to Heartwood in addition to its new accommodation offer.
Ferrier also highlights how the staycation market has remained strong following the pandemic.
He adds: “For example, if you try and book somewhere for a Saturday weekend away somewhere that's got good food and a really nice place to stay, [it’s] very difficult, particularly family-friendly places.
“I've got two small kids and finding somewhere for us to go is very difficult. That market is underserved that market we’ve got the kind of right strategy.”
The business is looking to take advantage of the accommodation market and is currently under offer on six sites that already host 150 bedrooms, helping build the pubs with rooms pipeline, according to Ferrier.
A recent purchase for Heartwood was the Black Swan in Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, which is set to open later this month (August) and the managing director lays out plans to grow in the region.
Ferrier says: “We've got other things in and around Oxfordshire, but nothing [else] in Warwickshire as it stands. There are definitely plans to do to do more, we like to build in clusters.
“We will look to do maybe four to five more in Warwickshire. We love Leamington Spa and Stratford upon Avon, Warwick, Solihull, there are some lovely areas in in Warwick and that would really fit our business well.
“We see this as the first of a clutch of four or five over the next two to three years. You get a lot of benefit from having more than one in a particular area. There is definitely appetite to do more in the Midlands.
“We are we're happy to go north [but] we're seeing a lot of opportunity in the south infill a lot of the places we've already got but it definitely doesn't stop us from going north in the future. We've got the ability to trade well there, it will probably come later on.”
The company’s latest acquisition is a historic pub in East Sussex and it has a plan to put it firmly at the heart of the community.
“We’ve agreed a deal for the White Hart in Lewes, which is probably one of the UK’s most famous pubs,” according to Ferrier.
It is thought English American writer Thomas Paine forged his radical policies at the pub, where a plaque indicates he ‘expounded his revolutionary politics’ there.
Ferrier adds: “It has 26 bedrooms and we're planning to put a multimillion-pound investment in it to develop [the site].
“[It’s] an unbelievable acquisition [and we are] really delighted we've got it, it's going to be really special.
“It's taking a genuine heritage project, bringing it back to life and creating a lot of jobs and opportunity off the back of it, in a market we love, and we genuinely feel is being underserved for a very long time.”
Heartwood is clearly very busy, with rapid expansion taking place and future plans looking bright.
Ferrier says: “We're moving ahead, the business is expanding quickly. We're going to be doing some brand refinement work with the Brasserie Blanc business as well. It won’t have a name change, but it will have lots of exciting brand work that's going into at the moment.”