Entrepreneurship · 16 November 2021

The Quick Guide For Aspiring Landlords Looking To Lease A Pub

Leasing a pub - the quick guide for aspiring landlords

You want to lease a pub – that is excellent news for the prolonging of one of Britain’s most enduring retail sectors. Here is a quick guide to set you off on a successful path. Cheers!

Leasing a pub – starting at the beginning

Your current knowledge of this sector plus the amount of capital you have available will be vital elements when assessing whether you choose to trade on a lease basis or the options of tenancy or freehold. It is a key decision to get right from the start.

Depending on who you ask, you can hear of nightmare tales regarding leases or tenancies in the pub trade. You might hear that a lease or tenancy is a good option for making money or gaining valuable business experience within the industry. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, as with most business deals, and you need to choose the one that suits your specific needs at a point in time.

The importance of pubs in the British economy

Through the many changes in businesses over the past decades, the local pub remains one of the few businesses mainly run by individuals or SMEs. This tradition has maintained its position in the marketplace because of the impressive agility of pub retailers to beat market and economic challenges. These entrepreneurs have continuously transformed their businesses to meet market needs and, in some years, dire economic pressures.

One of the developments was the arrival of pub companies as owners of several properties. Unlike brewery owners of pubs, pub companies focussed on the success of the pub and not on one brand only. This has placed them in an important position in the industry, and they traditionally use their commercial buying power to offer the individual outlets resources, capital, use of their buying power, training and support (marketing or business).

This has seen huge benefits to the market as it has increased the competition levels between pubs, the diversity of offerings to a more demanding consumer and generally has driven up standards. The pub industry is now seen as one of the most inventive sectors in the UK’s property leasing industry.

Breweries dominated the ownership of pubs historically. At the beginning of the 20th century, ninety percent of all pubs were owned by breweries. To expand the individual sales of their own brands, their only option was to wipe each other out. Jump forward to the 1980s and there were only six large breweries left.

This fierce fight for market share, linked to pub outlets, meant that each pub was severely limited in what they could sell. The breweries naturally included restrictive limitations on the pub lessors resulting in the tenants only being allowed to sell one brand – the breweries’ product. This was called the ‘tie’, which limited the market share options and operational freedom for the pub lessor or tenant and severely limited the choices available to the consumer. As consumers have matured, learnt to exercise their commercial power and become more demanding, it has been vital for the industry to evolve. In 1989, the British Government passed the Beer Orders to release pubs from these ties, and the pub industry changed forever.

The arrival of pub group companies

The Beer Orders resulted in the passing of ownership of pubs, in the majority, from the breweries to pub group companies and, in the minority, individual owners.

The English pub is one of the few remaining businesses, if not the last remaining, that still incorporates an accommodation element in its offering. Pub companies include that in their properties, and therefore pub lessors or tenants get rent-free accommodation for themselves and their families. The lessor or tenant can also use the accommodation for staff. Anywhere between ten and twenty thousand licensees use this option currently.

The impact of group buying power has had a profound effect on product ranges and customer offerings at each individual outlet.

A pub group company can source beer from breweries of its choice and can offer its lessors bulk buying power pricing from, for example, forty-six different brewers (medium-sized regional ones and large national options). In addition, they could include thirty-five niche brewers and may allow freedom to include some nano-brewery options. A lessor could have access to one hundred and eighty different draught beers, which is a significant range to choose from. There are also free-of-tie lease options whereby the rental amount would be higher.

Pub group companies – are they successful?

Some pub group companies estimate that their individual outlets generate an average revenue of up to thirty-five thousand pounds per annum. This figure includes the unique pub feature of accommodation. The pub group company would then earn about twenty-five thousand pounds per outlet (before tax). These group companies tend only to lease or tenant properties, not directly manage the business, and they do not generally have direct brewery interests driving one brand.

Every month, over four hundred and fifty applications for lease agreements are purportedly received by individual pub group companies.

Under the previous brewery ownership arrangement, limited investment was made into the real estate of the pub industry. The investment figures reported by pub group companies include amounts such as nineteen million pounds over two quarters and eighty-five million pounds over three years.

The consumer wins

Service levels and therefore customer satisfaction are also being boosted as the group companies have the capital available for training. Customer satisfaction and customer experience are huge focus areas for today’s modern consumer, so a group executing three thousand seven hundred training days every two quarters will ensure a much happier customer base.

The pub group companies also hold the retailers accountable — ‘an inspiring pressure’ that entrepreneurs often lack. It is up to the pub group company to find the balance between accountability and lessor satisfaction. Ultimately, the success of the outlet is the success of the group.

Competitions such as ‘Pub Company of the Year Award’ can help gauge the successful players in the large leased pub company market.

Short term leasing of a pub – Tenancy

A popular option with UK licensees is the short-term lease choice. These are also known as tenancies, and they traditionally have a lease contract that covers between twenty-four months and five years.

In this arrangement, a licensee can take on a going concern and get valuable support from a pub company. Some breweries have started the ownership of pubs again, and a licensee might choose that option. Breweries tend to offer a more favourable rental amount.

In both of these arrangements, a licensee is usually tied to a range of beer and other products but, as mentioned, above the range of product options can be huge. It is up to you to decide whether that range suits your target market. The pub group company would tend not to force products into a market segment that were not popular, and they would have usually invested significant amounts of capital into marketing to assess market demand.

Ease of entry into the industry

A tenancy is a great option if a pub-chef entrepreneur finds finances to be a barrier to entry into the pub industry as the need for significant start-up capital is eliminated. This low-cost entry option also brings lower risks, convenience and greater support. As a tenant in the eating and drinking-out section of the hospitality industry, an entrepreneur will still have significant freedom regarding the running of their selected establishment. If cooking is their passion, the tenant can fully control their own kitchen in the early years of their career and carve a successful long-term business path.

The pub’s success is important to the pub group company for obvious reasons, but also because sustaining existing tenants is more affordable than onboarding new ones. The tenant, therefore, can expect significant help towards achieving a thriving business.

There are free-of-tie lease options whereby a licensee will not be restricted regarding product choices. The maintenance of the real estate is still the responsibility of the pub group company as the property owner.

Both the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) support this point of view.

Due to the shorter contract period, it is prudent not to invest too much personal capital into the business premises. It might build the business but the rent will go up with this success, and your profits will be replenishing the capital used. In a tenancy arrangement, it is vital to find a balance between moderate success and personal investment.

And remember, at the end of a tenancy contract, it is renewal time – your rent will be increased and, in rare cases, doubled. Regardless of the ‘tie’, a long-term lease rental has a bit more protection from the courts.

Long-term leasing of a pub – Lease Agreement

Unlike a tenancy, a lease agreement is for a substantial length of time. The minimum contract period is usually about twenty years and the maximum contract period is typically about twenty-five years.