The group, which comprises three freeholds and three leaseholds, is now around 70 per cent food–led and, despite a tough economic backdrop and poor weather throughout the year, sales have continued to improve with turnover at £4,491,729 – marginally up from 2012.
Alistair Arkley, Chameleon's chairman, said: “We’ve moved away from wet-driven outlets towards destination food venues – that’s definitely helped us.
“We’re look closely at the provenance of food and we use local suppliers. There’s nothing wrong with wet-driven pubs but it just wasn’t the section of the market that we wanted to be in. We’re more rural in our locations which I think is another reason to be more food-focused.
We’re definitely still in the market of being ‘pubs which offer good food’ - We’re quite happy to be 70 per cent food but we don’t want to appear to be a restaurant.”
Chameleon’s intention going forward is to acquire more properties. The company assigned an unprofitable lease on The Cottage Inn near York during the year and took a tenancy from Thwaites on The Boatyard Inn near Preston, which is more closely aligned with the strategy of destination food and accommodation.
Arkley, who previously owned New Century Inns before selling the tenanted and leased pub company to Greene King in 2007, said Chameleon – which started as a multiple-lease business - is now in a position to buy, and that freeholds will be the way forward.
“Leases have been coming to an end and we’re trying to replace them with freeholds. We’ve tended to let places go if they’re not appropriate for our type of operation. Our preference now would be to buy freeholds. We’ll be looking at our trading area of north Lancashire and Yorkshire. We’d go all the way up to north Yorkshire.
“We don’t have aspirations to going back to running hundreds of pubs, we’re happy to run a modest business. But we have a line of credit from the bank and a lot of resource personally to put equity in, so we are in a position to buy. It’s just a case of the right places being available.”
For the year ahead, Arkley is confident that profits will be up, having seen them drop slightly in the past 12 months, by 2.94 per cent to £261,537.
“This year we’ve assigned some leases and there’s sometimes hidden costs associated with that, he said. “Next year will be higher in terms of sales and should be quite a bit higher in terms of profit before tax, turnover and operating profit.
“The steady growth we’ve seen has also been down to empowering our managers - We want to get decent managers in and allow them to have a big say in the individual aspects of the sites.
“We’ve also been early adopters of social media for the north of England, which I think has helped us a lot.”
Chameleon was established in December 2000. It is owned and run by managing director Phil Strong, finance director Barry Whitehead and chairman Arkley.
Its pubs include:
- The Boatyard Inn, near Preston, Lancashire - Leasehold
- Greaves Park, Lancaster - Freehold
- The Halfway House, Shipley, Yorkshire - Freehold
- Haworth Old Hall, Haworth, Yorkshire - Leasehold
- The Keys, near Lancaster - Freehold
- The Moorings, Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire - Leasehold