Planning Application 170866
The Chequers Planning Application
Bruce Bar Limited:
Bruce Bar Limited is a small, pub based company, operating mainly in the London
area. The company is an independent family run business, formed in 1986 with the
acquisition of The Rose Public House in Bermondsey. The Rose is still owned by the
company today and continues to successfully trade as a pub in a very competitive
market. The ancillary accommodation above the pub was converted to five flats in
2011, to provide an additional stream of income for the business.
The company has a history of purchasing and investing in freehold and leased
premises in unfashionable locations. Over the years the pub portfolio has grown and
a significant number of failing pubs have been saved. To date the company operates
25 different premises, of which roughly two thirds are freeholds.
The company currently employs around 400 employees. The company is not ‘branded’
and each pub operates individually on its own merits. It has become increasingly
common for the company to extend ownership opportunities in individual pubs to
senior members of their management teams. A majority of the premises owned by
the company also have junior partners.
This simple format provides greater incentive
for those involved to make each premises work.
Difficulties and challenges
When the company started running pubs in the 1980s and 1990s it operated a vastly
different business model to the one in existence today. Beers were generic, cheap to
produce and cheap to buy. The average pub goer was less discerning and it was
possible to offer a much narrower range of products with higher margins of profit.
Gastro pubs had not been invented and pub food, when it was available, was generally
cheap to buy and simple to produce, without the need for trained chefs. Pub culture
has become more sophisticated over recent years and in order to have any chance of
survival, a modern pub must offer a wider choice of quality products, purchased at
The requirement to offer a quality food service during operating hours means it is
necessary to staff a kitchen even when there is no demand for food. This also applies
to wet sales since the cultural change in day time drinking. Pubs remain open and
staffed for a majority of the day when there is little demand for alcohol. Pub trade now
relies on a limited number of peak hours in the evening with the majority of turnover
coming on a Friday and Saturday night.
However, the fundamentals to running a good pub have not changed;- ensure the
customer enjoys the experience, maximise revenue and control your costs. Whilst this
sounds easy enough, there are an increasing number of factors that make these
basics very difficult. Taxation and regulation increasingly contribute to tighten profit
margins; and competition from everything from coffee shops, casual dining and the
internet, continue to reduce the number of pub goers. A social and cultural move away
from pub culture in general, with the advent of instant communication, social media
and home entertainment has also taken its toll.
In addition, pubs face an increasing challenge from supermarkets. Supermarkets pay
no VAT on food or alcohol whilst pubs pay 20%.
As a result, supermarkets now sell
more alcohol than pubs and are often selling alcohol cheaper than a pub can buy it
from the wholesaler. Supermarkets can even sometimes sell alcohol cheaper than
bottled water, which shows their determination to sell alcohol as a loss leader.
On top of this, business rates are forecast to rise 40% nationally in the review now
taking place, with the majority of the rises in London and the south-east. Increases of
100% are therefore a probability rather than a possibility in the areas that Bruce Bar
What works in The Chequers favour is that it is a great building. When the company
purchased the pub in 2013, it had a poor reputation and was on the police and fire
department ‘watch list’. The pub at that point had an uncertain future. The business
has worked hard to straighten out all kinds of historical operational issues, and to
emphasise and promote new retail ideas, which include the outdoor area to the side
and rear of the premises, the function room, the modern British food menu, and the
right craft beer, ale and wine offerings. We’ve shown that it’s possible to reverse the
trends and to entice the local community back to the great British local, so that the
business can begin to move forward.
Despite all of the above, the company is still trying to make the best of a pub that’s
historically struggled. The pub alone however is not enough to sustain The Chequers
as a viable business.
When purchasing The Chequers, one of the main considerations
was the separate entrance/exit to the rear of the premises, and the size of the disused
yard area at the rear. It was clear that this rear yard could yield some income to support
the pub as an ongoing concern and eventually contribute to the business as a whole.
Most importantly, we are not developers, but are operators of licensed premises who
are trying to grow a pub business in an economic climate where pubs in general are
in decline. We’ve already adapted the traditional wet-led pub business at The
Chequers to include additional revenue streams such as hot food sales and soughtafter
accommodation in the rooms above the pub. With these new revenue streams,
along with the addition of five new units on the land to the rear of the premises, we
stand a chance of properly refurbishing and restoring a fabulous historic building and
turning a business in decline into a modern and viable version of its former glory.
The rental income derived from the residential proposal (ie. the 5 units) is the minimum
amount required (to supplement our main income from the pub sales), in order to
safeguard the future viability of the pub. Any reduction in units would therefore have a
serious economic impact on the business and there would be a real risk of jeopardising
our ability to move forward with our plans.