Urban Pubs & Bars ‘tentatively looking at opportunities outside of London’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Estate example: the Wheatsheaf in Tooting Bec, south London is one of Urban's 42 sites
Estate example: the Wheatsheaf in Tooting Bec, south London is one of Urban's 42 sites

Related tags Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Property Finance

London-based multiple operator Urban Pubs & Bars is now looking to expand outside of the capital, as the company reaches its 10th anniversary.

The group was founded in 2014 by ex-Realpubs founders Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap and has grown over the past decade to its now 42 site estate.

The business recently reported an uplift in sales and turnover in its latest trading update​, before alluding to plans for further growth.

Pring told The Morning Advertiser​: “One of the things Malc (Heap, co-founder) and I have always done, in previous businesses and this one, culturally it runs through the business, is we are very sharp with all our managerial costs, they are constantly reviewed.

“In terms of top line, we are constantly striving to be better. Part of the mantra within the company, whenever we have a good week is we can always do it better.

“That’s the philosophy we put on ourselves and throughout the company. We never want to rest on our laurels, there are always new people coming into the marketplace. We are all out in the trade a lot and we encourage people to see what’s going on.

“If you’re not aware of the competition, it will go past you and it’ll be too late.”

Although sales having been positive, Urban pointed to the fact it had expanded as an equally important reason as to why figures are strong.

Pring said: “We’ve got a very strong balance sheet at the moment and we have got a good facility with the bank.

“If we see an opportunity we can go out and buy it. That gives us a competitive advantage to others because we can move quickly and close deals very quickly.

“We have a good reputation for closing deals. We get loads of stuff across our desks and it feels at the moment like this year there is going to be quite a bit of pain.”

With many challenges facing operators currently, Urban Pubs & Bars is not immune to the turbulent trading conditions.

Ongoing challenges

The increase to £11.44 for the national living wage​ from April sparked concerns the hike could put many hospitality firms “over the edge”.

Pring outlined his thoughts on the upcoming rise in wages and ongoing high energy costs alongside the opportunities this could provide for the business.

He said: “Utilities are a little better but on the back of threat of wages rising by 10%, that is going to cause a lot of pain for a lot of people.

“Fortunately for us, our margins are sufficient we can ride that out but for other people that might not be the case and there’s an opportunity for us to pick those up.”

Pring was tight-lipped about a target number of sites the business wants to get to but said he was open to growth.

“We’ve got a magic number internally. We have got an idea of where we think we can get to in the coming years but fundamentally for people from the outside looking in, is to expect us to be very acquisitive,” he added.

“We spent a lot of time last year putting in a head office structure that is cemented in. We have headroom now to take on multiple sites.

“We are in a good place to acquire multiple pubs at the moment and that’s how we see 2024 working for us.”

That head office structure included the appointment of Chris Hill as managing director last spring. Hill was formerly chief executive at New World Trading Company and Rooney Anand’s investment vehicle RedCat.

Pring said: “Chris has been a real driving force in the business. Internal comms have improved, [he has] brought a real rigour to everything we do and it’s been great to see.

“It genuinely feels he extols all the same values Malc and I have.”

When it comes to the location of this expansion, there is a city focus but, with the potential to scale up the business both inside and outside of the capital.

Varied organisation

The business has a number of individual concepts within its more than 40-strong estate that Pring believed have the capacity for growth.

“We still think there are loads of opportunities in London despite the fact we have 42 sites in London we think we can, within our concepts – City Bars, Urban Locals and Bat & Ball,” he said.

“There are no plans to do any more Salt Yard sites in London at the moment but the other three, there are definitely opportunities in London.”

Now is the time when Urban is starting to looking outside of London as part of the long-term strategy.

The director said: “There will be a time when Urban Pubs & Bars looks to capitalise on its position, the infrastructure we have and seek out opportunities outside of London.

“We are tentatively looking at that now and the longer-term plan for Urban Pubs & Bars will be to grow outside of London.

“We will find some good places outside of London, three of our offers could work in cities outside of London and our Urban Locals like the Wheatsheaf (in Tooting Bec) and the Cyclist (in Balham), there is loads of scope for those in large and small cities in the London commuter band.”

The group acquired 13 sites from Barworks in 2021 alongside a number of other sites including the opening of Fleets near St Paul’s, Nest in Bishopsgate and the Black Horse in Fitzrovia since.

Looking ahead to the possibility of future growth, Pring highlighted as long as it was the right deal, the business is open to a breadth of acquisition sizes.

He said: “We’ll do both (single site acquisitions and group acquisitions). The good thing is we don’t have to run things through big committees, it’s myself and Malc. If we see site or sites that we think fit the mould of our company, we will move quickly.

“[We have] private equity, who are 50/50 with us. It might be small multiples it might be individual sites, as long as it works for us.”

Related topics MA Leaders Club

Related news

Show more