Purchased for around £1m, the 31-bedroom former Best Western Admiral Rodney Hotel is a classic market town hotel, which fits in with Bulldog’s growing estate of coaching inns, say property agents Colliers International who handled the deal.
Bulldog, which was founded in 1996 as a pub operator, sold its estate of 25 pubs in 2006 after identifying that the market would be “in for a bit of a fall”, says co-owner and MD, Kevin Charity.
Bulldog Pub Group, which will soon change its name to Bulldog Inns and Hotels, has since built up a hotel portfolio, which it aims to grow to an estate of 12 within the next five to six years.
However, finding the right sites that meet the group’s strategy is more important than rapid expansion, said Charity.
“We’re in no hurry, although it is a buyer’s market right now. But we need to find the exact right properties; we’re looking for high-street positions, the hotels must be the focal point of the town and must be seen as the best hotel of the area.
“Each hotel also has to take a minimum of £22k a week,” he told BigHospitality, adding that they are considering properties ranging from £1m - £3m, depending on the property value, its refurbishment need, and its turnover potential.
All Bulldog hotels are “typical town-centre coaching inns”, ranging between 21 and 40 bedrooms. The group is targeting both corporate and leisure guests at the three-star market level.
“We’d like to think we’re offering four-star service, but with three-star prices and friendliness. We don’t want to be stuffy, we want to be professional but with a casual feel,” said Charity.
A major draw of all the Bulldog properties is the on-site pub, which aims to generate interest amongst both locals and corporate clients.
“To encourage corporate business to come to us instead of Premier Inn or Travelodge, we price ourselves at £15-20 more expensive, but offer more of a home experience – with free wifi, a cracking shower, and a great pub where a business person can feel they can have a glass of wine or a real ale in pub surroundings, but know that their bed is only upstairs,” explained Charity.
“In market towns, the rumour mill also gets going very fast, so anything that’s going on in their town gets round fast. We use that to our advantage to attract locals. For example, Horncastle was in need of a stylish well-run bar, and that’s what we’ll deliver.”
Bulldog will be investing £250,000 in refurbishing the Horncastle hotel, focusing primarily on refitting and updating the ground-floor public areas, including the bar area.
Charity, who runs Bulldog along with two partners – Lily Charity, his wife and the HR director at Bulldog, and Mark Porcher, commercial director – said they have no plans for expanding the group beyond the planned 12 sites.
“We enjoy being involved on the coalface, involved with the people aspect, both staff and customers. When you have too many sites, that side of things is lost. It’s not just about a business plan to create wealth, it’s about enjoyment,” he said.
The other hotels in Bulldog’s portfolio currently include The White Hart Hotel in Boston, Lincolnshire; The White Hart Royal Hotel in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire; The Old Bridge Hotel in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire; and The Talbot Hotel at Oundle, Northants.
Bulldog has so far funded its expansion through the business, but Charity said that it will now be looking for additional investment – probably from private equity – for all expansion moving forward.