Amber Taverns to extend wet-led pub model further south with Midlands acquisitions

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Amber taverns, Public house, Tavern

James Baer, managing director of Amber Taverns (second left), has said the wet-led pub model which has delivered success for the company could work in parts of the South as well as the North
James Baer, managing director of Amber Taverns (second left), has said the wet-led pub model which has delivered success for the company could work in parts of the South as well as the North
James Baer, managing director of successful community pub operator Amber Taverns, has told BigHospitality he believes the company's wet-led pub model could work in areas in the south of the country.

The Lancashire-based firm, which currently operates a portfolio of 86 freehold pubs, has today announced a 'record' set of financial results for the year to 3 February 2013.

Revenue grew by 30 per cent in the twelve-month period to top £33m, like-for-like sales were up 2 per cent and pre-tax profits increased by 22 per cent to £3.9m. 

Heading South

The company opened 11 new pubs in the year and has acquired six new sites since February. A number of those are in areas away from the North West and Manchester where Amber Taverns has previously concentrated its acquisition efforts - recently the operator has secured new venues in the Midlands including in Walsall and Hanley, Staffordshire.

Speaking to BigHospitality, Baer said the success the firm had found in the North with its wet-led model could be replicated elsewhere in the UK. 

"We don't aspire to be as big as JD Wetherspoon but we still think there is plenty of growth potential," the MD explained. Baer has previously told BigHospitality's sister publication M&C Report​ that the firm is on target to operate 100 sites by 2014.

"We are keen to expand our geography but there are still plenty of towns in the North of England we don't trade in. It is always the quality and potential of the site that is key.

"Bill Priestly from LGV Capital thinks the Medway towns in Kent would work (for the Amber Taverns model). We think it is unlikely that the model would work in central London due to the property prices but we do think there are large conurbations in other parts of the country where in time the model could sit quite happily and trade well.

"As we grow it is important that we maintain the culture and the local approach to running pubs for local people," he added.

Food con?

Amber Taverns, which is backed by private equity firm LGV Capital, has attributed its success to its commitment to community venues serving drinks despite the trend for food-led pubs.

"Although wet-led pubs have faced some well-documented challenges over the last decade, a well-invested pub offering good value with an incentivised and motivated operator can still appeal to a lot of people - we are proving that," Baer argued.

"There are some very good food-led operators out there and that is a relevant and successful business model but I would question whether some of those venues are actually pubs or are they restaurants?

"Was some of the move to food actually a sticking plaster by the big pubcos to say to tenants 'don't worry about the smoking ban or supermarket competition, just bring food in and we won't have to look at your business model' - was it just a huge con trick?"

How to run a successful wet-led pub - James Baer's top tips:

  • Be prepared to invest - we are up against supermarket pricing so why are people going to go to a pub that isn't better than their front room?
  • If you are operating more than one site, treat each pub as a small business in a local market - bottom up rather than top down.
  • Enable individual pub managers to drive footfall - one of our pubs in Leyland, Lancashire, and the person in charge chose to do a bingo night on a Tuesday for the residents of a local nursing home. That doesn't generate a terrific amount of business but it is a quiet time and it embeds the pub in the community. 

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