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What to look out for

May 14, 2019
Horror stories abound about buying the first site for your operation – whether it’s surprise costs or a lack of traffic. When searching for a new business, especially for first-timers, it can be tricky to know what to look out for when choosing a site.
Falling in love at first sight (or site) is a dangerous move, according to multiple operators who shared their experiences on what to swerve when property-hunting.
Co-founder of brewpub brand Brewhouse & Kitchen, Kris Gumbrell, says his word of caution to new operators would be to consider the less glamorous components of the property as well as the pull of an attractive site.
“When choosing a site, it’s very easy to get carried away and fall in love with just the building itself,” he says.
His advice is to take a step back from the surface level appeal of a property and make sure you consider the location, footfall, pavement presence and available market.
“These factors are of equal importance to the building itself and will be pivotal in transforming your site into a success,” Gumbrell explains.
Do your research
Visit the site as many times as possible to watch what the footfall is like in the mornings, at lunchtimes and in the evenings across each day of the week, recommends Anthony Hughes, director of Lincoln Green brewing company.
Understand where people in the area go at what times – for example if there is a commuter, office, or shopping culture that could boost daytime trade.
This sentiment is shared by Sean Donkin, managing director of the Inn Collection Group, which hopes to expand to 21 sites over the next few years.
The inn group learnt to prioritise location above a building. “By that, I don’t mean it has to be perfect as it is, but it has  the ability to fit within our pub-inns model,” Donkin says.
A property must have a good size or the potential to have a good size ground floor trading space, according to the director.
Another big mistake made by new operators is to fall in love with a site as it is. “If you go for a site that is really good already, unless you are absolutely convinced you are going to add value to it, you will never get it for the right price.
“We always look for sites where we can actually develop them, rather than being perfect trading sites that are existing,” Donkin explains.
“It is not so much the property, as you can do anything with a building as long as you are prepared to pay for it. A builder can fix virtually anything within a building.”
Transforming a site
Gumbrell agrees with this, and points out that transforming a site helps your business stand out to customers. “We like to look for something that is rundown and needs work – this is what allows us to put our own stamp on the properties that we pick, marking our brand and building on the character of the properties,” he adds.
“We see having new projects as exciting and the prospect of transforming the original site is often a daunting process, but a very rewarding one,” Gumbrell explains.
“Look at everything and think as laterally as possible. If a big company has failed, then don’t write it off without having a second good look. It’s important to look for opportunities to maximise potential and build upon existing opportunities.”
Sometimes there are no warning signs a deal might not be as good as it seems, but publicans say you can protect yourself from falling foul of a bad agreement with diligent research.
Gumbrell from Brewhouse & Kitchen says: “Leases are something that we rarely consider and any over-promising from landlords in terms of support and activity that you should be receiving needs to be documented and challenged if required.”
Be careful about the hidden costs in those service charges, he adds. “They are often rent by the back door,” he says. “You want to ensure that you get the most out of the plot and are being supported in the right ways if necessary.”
Check your business plan
Lincoln Green’s Hughes shares this sentiment. “It does remain the business owners responsibility to ensure that they’ve thoroughly checked that their business plan covers everything,” he says.
Reach out to other people who lease from the landlord in question and see what their feedback is about their charges, Hughes recommends.
Size and footprint are crucial as they will determine the parameters of a site’s potential, according to B&K’s Gumbrell. “For instance, with some of our larger sites, such as our locations in Chester and Worthing, there is scope to expand into the hotel
sector, which is a fantastic opportunity,” he reflects. “Take a look at where you want to be over the coming years as well as where you want to be right now.”
“The footprint of sites will determine how the company’s footprint in the market can expand into a number of locations. This also represents the geographic market presence that a company has on the map.”
Lincoln Green brewing company’s Hughes says that what you should consider in terms of footprint will naturally vary depending on whether you plan to be wet or dry-led.
Check entertainment potential
Wet-led operators should ask if there is space to provide entertainment or rooms to enable functions, meetings or to hire out to community based groups, Hughes says. “Don’t look for a site that’s too big though – at quiet times, that big pub will feel empty.”
For food-led publicans, he recommends seeking to answer the questions: “How many covers do you have? Do they provide enough flexibility to enable you to turn tables quickly at busy periods? How easy is the site to operate in terms of speed of service from kitchen to table?”
Another consideration for footprint is whether there are any “unusual small spaces”, which could suit use as an intimate function room, meeting space, micro-brewery or on-site gin still, Hughes says.
Outside space should also be considered. While expansion might not be appropriate now, a few years down the line it could be a very different story.
Think about whether the outside space is suitable as a garden and a summer sun trap or has potential for development. “You don’t have to do it all at once, but you can plan future phases to develop your business as it grows – a new sun terrace perhaps or an outside bar,” Hughes adds.
 
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