The Midlands-based firm said it predicts a downturn in the growth of the country pub sector in 2011 and 2012 so decided to refocus its acquisition strategy.
Following a review of its estate, which currently includes fourteen country pubs and restaurants across the UK, Urban & Country Leisure (UCL) said it will redirect the £15m it had initially intended to invest in expanding its country pub operations. Together with an additional £5m, the funds will instead be used over the next three years to roll out fifteen new Lazy Cow sites.
Boutique hotel soars
The original Lazy Cow, which opened in Warwick in November last year has reportedly brought in over £50k per week in its first nine weeks of trading, even without full occupancy of its rooms.
Ross Sanders, who runs UCL, said: “We are delighted with the trading results for The Lazy Cow at Warwick. Despite the continuing tough economic trading conditions and the recent severe weather, these results far exceeded our budgets and expectations.”
The site has already been tipped by The Sunday Times Travel Hot List “Where To Party”. It also has the appeal of head chef David Philpot who was previously senior chef at Le Caprice, The Ivy and head chef at Soho House in New York.
Sanders said he is now looking for key sites in major cities and market towns throughout the UK for new Lazy Cow premises, including Bath, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Solihull, Newbury, Poole Lincoln and Henley On Thames.
The group plans to build The Lazy Cow – or TLC – into a chain of “intimate, stylish boutique hotels that have a strong accent on unique, quality accommodation, stylish interiors and exceptional food and drink offerings”.
UCL invested £1.5m in its first TLC in order to renovate the former Globe Hotel into a 16-room boutique venue.
The £20m private funding for the brand’s expansion over the next three years will come from private investment raised through UCL’s joint venture with Innventive Property Holdings.
Country pubs slow
On the other hand, UCL will be putting the brakes on its country pub expansion, making fewer and more selective acquisitions.
“Whilst our expansion plans will be aggressive with the TLC brand, we will be following a much slower and more cautious acquisition policy for other country pub/restaurants in the 2011/2012 trading period, focussing on more intense and detailed viability on the demographics,” said Sanders.
“We predict a much slower growth in this sector based on the tough trading conditions, which we see continuing through until 2012. Increased VAT will have an impact on peoples’ leisure and hospitality spend, along with the ‘ripple effect’ of such things as fuel costs and travelling to out-of-town country pub destinations.
“The country pub restaurants that will not suffer will be the ones who have a strong local community supporting them and those who are not dependant on travelling footfall and trade. We believe that the stronger performance will come from brands with a quality offering in town- and city-based locations.”