The pub, hotel and wedding venue operator will focus on acquiring large scale sites going forward, as part of its ambition to double the size of the business in the next five years


Bowland Inns’ expansion strategy will concentrate on acquiring “high turnover” sites as part of its ambition to double the size of the business in the next five years.

After securing a £25m loan from neobank OakNorth, the pub, hotel and wedding venu operator plans to refinance its existing portfolio, as well as complete the acquisition and refurbishment of the company’s latest development, Wennington Hall near Lancaster.

After being approached by various private equity partners, commercial director Warren Bennett tells MCA that OakNorth was the obvious choice.

“Their branding around being an entrepreneurs bank is very true,” he says, adding “they’re very fast moving, and they align with our business better than some mainstream banks.”

In the longer term, Bowland is “actively seeking out” new opportunities in its heartland, from South Lakeland to North Cheshire.

With 70% of profits linked to weddings and events, he adds, “I would suggest what we’re actively seeking is new wedding venues”, however smaller pub acquisitions are not off the cards.

After recently adding a pub with 12 rooms in Downham, Assheton Arms to its estate, Bennett says the business will take on similar sites, “as they come along.”

Bistro, Bar & Grill

Maintaining diversity across the estate remains key to the business model which is, “not a uniformed roll out”, but rather treats “each business as its own entity, with its own unique style”, according to Bennett.

“We’re very much focused on making the business suit the venue, buildings are pretty much at the heart of what we do.”

For example Holmes Mill, Clitheroe, home to Bowland Brewery offers a “unique collection of local, industrial heritage, food, drink and entertainment”, including a beer hall, Everyman Cinema and bar and grill. 

This varied, premium business model has helped insulate the brand from current economic pressures, says Bennett, with 40% of revenue coming from pre-booked wedding and events.

Bennett adds that many of the brand’s sites have had their “best individual trading days and weeks in the last year”.

“What we’re finding is that if people are going out, they want to go somewhere nice,  potentially drive to it and go a little bit further.

The director has also seen a trend towards premiumisation.

“It’s interesting that Guinness, one of the more expensive products you’ll find in the bar, is now one of the largest growing

“If they’re going to spend money, they want the right product.”

The brewery side of the business allows the brand to keep an eye on the wider market, says Bennett. “It’s sort of the glue that fits all the group together really”, he adds.

He says dwell time is one of the biggest changes in recent years, with average cover time now over 3 hours in some venues.

“We’re finding that people are spending longer when they’re going out, they’re going out earlier and they’re leaving earlier.”

“More often than not, it’s not really worth our while opening beyond 9.30pm in some of our venues.”

Beer Hall Chimney Room

 The company is currently focused on creating strong incentives for staff, including flexibility around working patterns.

Taking advantage of its clustered locations, the company is aiming to offer flexible hours and opportunity for employees to work across multiple sites.

“If someone wants to move around and do different shifts at different venues, we’re very much encouraging that.

“The format has helped us in those peak pressure, certainly on the chef side.

“We are trying to make sure that we do that work life balance”, he adds.

We have a pool that’s bigger, so we have a wage bill that’s significantly bigger, but we’ve got more flexibility within that team and it’s proving to be a cost effective solution.”