Managing Director - Pubs & Restaurants
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Pubs

The traditional UK pub is an institution that is renowned worldwide, and yet a perfect storm of legislative change and shifting consumer demand created a challenging decade for the industry from which we are only now emerging.

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UK pub numbers stabilising

A gradual decline in UK pub numbers began in the late 1980s, following the introduction of the Beer Orders, as consumer patterns began to shift. Aside from a brief period of net openings in the mid-to-late 1990s, this decline has continued, albeit at a fairly steady pace. The introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 combined with the onset of recession in 2008 caused incredibly tough trading conditions for publicans, and greatly accelerated the decline in pub numbers to a rate of almost 50 closures per week, as alternative uses were deemed more viable than licensed retail. Independent freehouses, small operators and large pub companies were affected alike, although thankfully the majority of pubs that were closed, sold or converted were poorly located, outdated, under invested or faced too much competition. Following this decade of decline, and supported by overall economic improvement, the number of pubs in the UK now appears to be stabilising, and we are left with an industry which is leaner, fitter and more sustainable as a result. 

The Pubs Code and Market Rent Only options

The Pubs Code became effective on 21 July 2016, and heralds the greatest change to the relationship between Pub Company and tenant since the Beer Orders of the 1980s. As we predicted, most of the six large pub companies affected took actions to mitigate the adverse implications of the legislation by transferring pubs from tenanted divisions into managed or franchised formats, setting up managed house divisions where they did not exist previously, and granting shorter term agreements. The free-of-tie and freehouse sectors are certain to grow as a result of this legislation, although concessions over implementing changes to tenancies where units have received significant qualifying capital investment appear to have mitigated our fear that tenants would see reduced investment in the short term. While freehouse ownership remains the aspiration for many individuals, the lower working capital requirements together with suppressed values of tenanted and leased assets, make it a very attractive entry point for either small operators looking to expand, or new entrants.


Private ownership

There are now more pubs in private ownership than ever before and the freehouse sector (which has overtaken the number of tenanted and leased assets and currently stands at around 21,000 pubs) is likely to grow further as pub companies focus on their managed and franchised operations. The shift in the market provides a real opportunity for small multiples operators, of which there are over 300 in the UK, and we predict an increase in sub £20m pub group deals or mergers and acquisitions by multi site owners. There continues to be plenty of private equity interest in targeting small multiple groups to either bolt on to existing portfolios or use as a platform for future acquisitions.  Valuation services provided by Christie & Co on the £118 million acquisition of the Liberation Group by licensed sector new- comer Caledonia Investments proves that new private equity players are coming to the market.

Transactions and alternative use

Our analysis of transactions during 2016 reveals that pub prices rose 4.4% during the year, driven partly by the shortage of good managed house stock coming to the market. Overall, there is renewed confidence in the marketplace and an improved appetite amongst the major lenders to lend into the pub sector, be it for individual assets or groups. Positively, 92% of freehold pubs sold by Christie & Co continue to operate as businesses supporting the local community, with 84% of buyers retaining the pub for continued licensed use, an increase of 4% and 17% on 2014 and 2013 respectively, and the highest recorded percentage in five years. Only 8% of pubs sold by Christie & Co were for residential use or development, and only 3% of pubs sold were for conversion to retail convenience store use. 

For more of our views and detail on the Pub market, including Price Indices, you can download our Business Outlook 2017 publication.

£6bn

worth of assets advised and transacted on
 

84%

of pubs transacted by Christie & Co were retained as licensed premises

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Pubs for sale – trends in the regions

The pub market is buoyant, with demand for good gastro pubs and community pubs with a strong food offering, as well as letting rooms, becoming a key driver of value.  However, there continues to be some uncertainty surrounding The Pubs Code and MRO legislation, which has softened demand for leases. Nonetheless, finance appears readily available for well located businesses with good trading records. Cost pressures arising from various legislations such as National Living Wage, the Apprenticeship Levy and Business Rates Revaluation expected to come in to effect in Q2 will lead to some distressed operators, and present opportunities for Pub disposals.
 

London & the South-East 

 

We continue to see increasing demand for profitable accommodation-led businesses within honey pot areas, with an appetite for food-led operations outweighing demand for wet-led businesses. However, the leasehold market has been softened slightly due to recent MRO legislation. 

Finance is increasingly available, and bank lending continues to grow. Experienced operators are acquiring pubs at both the top and bottom end of the market, looking for either a successful going concern or a closed business that can be grown and developed. Equally, private equity backed multiple operators continue to lead the way, acquiring high turnover businesses targeting select niche areas. Our mid range market is made up of mostly local buyers within a 30-40 mile radius of a pub, often having known it for some time prior to their interest.

Uncertainty in the wake of the unexpected result of the UK referendum on EU membership has led to a reduction in the number of potential buyers selling a London property, exiting the city and using the proceeds to purchase a pub within easy reach of the City. Accordingly, a number of opportunities exist for savvy investors to acquire some excellent assets.
 

The South-West

 

In the South West we are seeing high demand for underperforming, under invested, freehold pubs, where the discerning buyer can see a clear upside in value by changing the dynamics of the trade, for example by adding letting rooms or increasing the dining space. There is also increasing appetite for managed house opportunities, particularly from group operators, with an increase in the number of transactions in this market segment. Free-of-tie leases remain popular due to the relatively low cost of entry (compared to a freehold) and tend to attract experienced operators who still have their concerns over the uncertain future of the tied leasehold model.
 

The Midlands and East Anglia 

 

The Midlands and Anglia pub sector continues to have its challenges although a number of areas are appealing to both existing and first time operators. Similar to the North the greatest demand now seems to be for mid-sized family orientated community pubs with a good food offering, with good road links and close to retail and shopping areas with high footfall. Rural coaching inns are also proving popular. Location remains paramount with market towns or trunk roads with access to tourist destinations or areas of commerce. Operations with micro breweries are also looking to expand their offering throughout the region. 
 

The North 

 

The flood of budget, wet-led, pub company disposals coming to market in recent years has now reduced to a trickle, although these affordable opportunities invariably attract buyers relatively quickly. The greatest demand at present seems to be for mid-sized family orientated community pubs with a good food offering, on large sites, ideally with good road links and either close to retail parks, shopping areas or any other provider of all day footfall.  Similarly, the rural coaching inns attracting the most attention tend to have development potential to increase room numbers, are located in market towns or on trunk roads with access to tourist destinations or areas of commerce. We have seen a number of expanding and acquisitive leisure operators actively pursuing these opportunities. 
 

Scotland

 

The reduction to the drink driving alcohol limit introduced in 2014 has had a dramatic effect on pubs across Scotland. The “after work pint” is now generally a thing of the past and operators are reporting their businesses becoming quieter earlier in the evenings. However, city centre pubs are continuing to perform well, although many have had to introduce or improve their food offer in order to supplement falling wet sales. This in turn has seen pubs compete increasingly with traditional restaurants, and ultimately a merging of the gastro pub and restaurant models. Banks are generally keen to fund well located properties that can evidence a strong pattern of trade as a going concern, but lending levels reduce when looking at regional or rural businesses, where the value of the bricks and mortar becomes the benchmark for loan to value ratios. 

Whether you are looking to purchase your first pub, bar or gastro pub, or are an experienced owner operator looking to develop your portfolio, our expert team have a wealth of specialist knowledge in the pub sector across each region and vast experience of the buying and selling process. 

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