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This new life is no free ride

25 September 2008

The embattled pub sector has suffered casualties, but Neil Morgan

Eighteen months ago the UK's pub sector was buoyant, with talks of takeovers and mergers.

But current discussions are more likely to centre on administrations and receiverships as many operators struggle with the effect of the slowdown in the economy, a drop in consumer spending, the results of the smoking ban and rising utility costs.

Over the past few months we have seen a number of well-known companies enter administration, including the Food & Drink Group, Laurel Pub Company, Massive Pub Company, Herald Bars and Inns and Cains.

Some of these were victims of stifling rents and the move by consumers away from the high-street drinking circuit on which their offer focused. Others were found wanting when it came to updating their offer. Older-style brands which stood still and reacted too slowly to changing tastes were bypassed by consumers looking for food-led operators.

However, the move into administration, voluntary or not, has brought opportunities - and not just for other businesses to cherry-pick the best sites from troubled estates.

Several of the brands mentioned, in order to survive, have taken the "prepacked administration" route, which allows a company to reâ€'emerge under a different name, retaining the assets it wants to keep while leaving underperforming sites in administration. These companies have reâ€'entered the market with new names and, it seems, with a new purpose.

The Robert Tchenguiz-backed Laurel split to become Bay Restaurants and Town & City Pubs, while Herald quickly morphed into the leaner Cougar Leisure.

While the spectre of administration will continue to hover over more pub operators, it is hoped that, by taking this prepacked route, the groups that reâ€'emerge are more robust and are prepared to learn from previous mistakes.

Many have been making the right noises, but the market they left, albeit briefly, is still tough, if not tougher, and greater application will be needed if more closures are to be avoided and growth attained.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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