The Heart of England

Pub franchises are enjoying a golden age as they expand into towns and cities throughout Britain. The Franchise Magazine looks at why businesses like Marston’s, Everards and Punch are thriving in an age when bar takings are plagued by the unnerving ominousness of the evolution of ‘stay-at-home drinkers’.

For 17th century writer, Samuel Pepys, the pub was the “the heart of England” – and it seems this age-old ideal has struck a chord with modern Britain.

The public’s enduring affinity for pub franchises becomes ever more apparent when visiting the UK’s towns and city centres, where the local JD Wetherspoons and All Bar One are packed to the rafters with merry drinkers and hungry families enjoying each other’s company.

The statistics substantiate the obvious too. In 2012, Mitchells and Butler, the franchisor behind Harvester, All Bar One and many more brands, recorded operating profits of £304million. Earlier this year, the Marston’s pub franchise posted an eight per cent growth on like-for-like sales.

For Nick Goodway of The Independent, a designated target audience is the key to their success: “Brewer Marston’s five-F plan, focusing on food, families, females and forty/fifty-something’s, is paying off with a strong rise in annual profits.” Although it is unlikely that Pepys, the great literary lothario, would fit into any of these demographics, even he would be unable to argue against this plan’s track record for maintaining a busy pub.

Everards Brewers of Leicestershire are another business set for expansion. In September 2012, the franchisor reported an 11 per cent increase in operating profits from the previous year, and they are committed to building on these impressive figures.

Managing Director, Stephen Gould, told The Morning Advertiser earlier this year: “We are on track to purchase a further five or six (pubs) this year, but we will see the trend continue where there’s one or two likely to transfer to our unlicensed estate.”

Buying into a successful pub franchise is easier than many people think. Mitchells and Butlers (MAB) requires only ‘a passion for pubs’ and ‘self-motivation’, along with the initial start-up capital, which is estimated to be around £50,000, according to the MAB code of practice.

For their part, the Mitchells and Butlers terms of franchising give investors a 10-year lease on their premises, along with training in the operating style necessary to implement one of their proven business models, like Harvester or O’Neill’s pubs. The popularity of pub franchises is partly a result of the undeniably good-value culinary experience they offer. The cost of social drinking may have inflated exponentially from the days when Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister, and beer cost just 15p per pint at the pumps, but pub franchises have developed a reputation for selling meals and drinks for a cheaper price than other alternatives in the high street.

As pubs throughout the UK are forced to close as consumers look to save money by staying at home, franchise pubs are bucking the trend. Iain Jackson, Operations Director for Marston’s, believes it is their commitment to making sure they have the right people in place. He said: “Quite simply, I think we’ve recognised the crucial role our franchisees play in the success of the business and, accordingly, have created an environment in which they can flourish. “We also place a great deal of importance on ensuring we have the right people in place to operate our pubs and have a robust selection process in place, supported by a comprehensive training programme, which ensures we have a network of high calibre, competent franchisees.”

The combination of a proven business model and individual intuition about a regional customer base, is clearly a major driving force behind the popularity of pub franchises. Iain adds: “Franchisees benefit from higher levels of support and guidance, lower entry costs, increased purchasing power, brand recognition and centralised marketing activity, while leaving room for entrepreneurialism at a more local level.

“Franchising isn’t for everyone and requires a good match between the culture, values and goals of both us and our franchisees, but our experience to date certainly indicates that the model is highly successful and growing in popularity.” This dedication to listening to the knowledge of franchisees, and supporting them through difficult periods, has cemented pub franchises’ position as rock-solid establishments in the make-up of towns and cities.

It was from a small pub in Southwark that Pepys wrote his famous diary while watching London burn in 1666. Now, as pub franchisors offer up more and more franchise opportunities, the future of Pepys’ “Heart of England” looks safe for years to come.