Example 1 - Rural Pub in the Home Counties: This pub was owned by a national pub company which had neglected it for years and consequently there had been “revolving door” tenants for some time. Trade had suffered and just prior to our instruction the pub had closed and was bought immediately by a property developer who wanted to convert the pub to a house for which he needed change-of-use permission. Potential stumbling blocks were the fact that the business had lacked leadership and expertise for several years and once operated successfully under private ownership. What’s to say that it would not succeed again? Another problem was that the pub had not been fully marketed over a period of time as a going concern. The developer bought the property but might there have been a proficient operator out there somewhere? One favourable point was that there was one other pub in the village, a social club, post office and general store. We compiled a detailed report showing how the other businesses more than catered for all the residents’ demands and we eventually proved that our pub was no longer viable as such and had only one life left – as a grand house. The application was granted.
Example 2 - Urban pub on outskirts of city: Owned by a couple in their 60’s who had been at the pub for 16 years, this was once a vibrant and successful business. However, since the smoking ban and the new leisure centre opposite with funky bars and restaurants trade had dipped dramatically over the last two years. The owners had built up a solid following of mainly cask ale drinkers and there was no food offer. Critically there was no outside trade area so most of the smokers, who represented a staggering 65% of the regulars, drifted off to one of many pubs in the vicinity. Now our couple were ready to retire but the market had fallen away and they could not sell the pub at a realistic price as turnover was incommensurate with the asking price which in itself was fair considering the extent of the bricks and mortar. After 9 months on the market we were called in to give our opinion. We built our report around the effect of the national trend on the business, supermarket opposite, new bars nearby, lack of a smoking facility and we carried out a survey amongst the locals. After 4 weeks intensive work the report was ready and a site meeting was arranged with the local planner. Despite opposition from CAMRA and some locals who never used the pub in any case the application was successful and (nearly) everyone was happy.
Example 3 - Closed Village Pub with ACV Listing – This Grade II listed property is in a large village near Salisbury and was owned by a major pub company. The building was suffering from lack of investment and a trail of 10 tenants in 12 years. The last tenant had walked away and the owning company boarded up the pub and placed it on the market with a national pub agent. A lady developer acquired the site after 6 months of marketing and out of the blue a nomination was received by the Council for the building to be listed as an asset of community value (ACV). We were called in when the agent referred the developer to us and we immediately requested a review of the ACV listing. Within 6 weeks we had the ACV listing revoked and a sound case for a change of use to residential was in place. This was based on the unviability of the business, the fact that there was no interest to acquire the property from pub operators and that there were three other pubs within comfortable walking distance. The Grade II building required urgent works carrying out as the roof was leaking and part of the foundations sinking but these issues were addressed within the overall proposal for the site. We represented the developer at the planning committee meeting having already lobbied the members and the application was granted on a show of hands.
Example 4 (Village Pub Purchased in 2006 at the Peak of the Market) – This pub is in a well-known village near Exeter and was acquired when the market was at its peak. The building comprised bars, restaurant, function room, letting bedrooms and a car park. The owners were concerned that trade had declined since the recession and all the issues which have affected the industry were biting. Communities have changed habits and are spending more time at home. Who can blame them when supermarket alcohol is so cheap and the joys of the internet offer so much in the way of home entertainment? The function room was not used sufficiently as it was more economical for local parties to book the village hall. There was another pub in the village which was a fine-dining venue and drew trade from Exeter whereas our subject pub didn't have the configuration for such a facility. The bedrooms required refurbishment and the kitchen was outdated. We were called in to assess the possibility of a change of use but the strict criteria we set in order to take on a case were not met. The accounts were showing a profit although cash-flow was tight and the pub was not on the market. The owners were in a tight corner and struggling to keep the business going. We made a proposal that the function room at the rear and three of the ten bedrooms on the first floor should be hived off and planning submitted for two residential dwellings with parking spaces and reasonable gardens. We drew up plans by incorporating the services of our architect colleague and the viability report was processed. There were in effect two reports with one projecting how the business would fail if nothing changed and the second prognosis showing how the disposal of the two residential sites would enable the owners to update the remainder of the property and to bring the overall investment back to generate a realistic commercial level of return. The application was granted and the sites were sold for housing. The pub is looking immaculate and turnover has increased. The loss-making function room has reduced costs and the newly refurbished bedrooms are commanding a higher rack rate. All because of our scheme and the effectiveness of the viability report we submitted with the application.