Once that deal goes through, Laurel's chief executive, Ian Payne, said today he wants to increase the size of the company's estate by 200 pubs or so, at which point it would be big enough for a stock market float.
The outlets chosen for the sale-and-leaseback, all freehold except for a few very long leases, come from right across the estate, and include some of the 111 Hogshead branded pubs, suburban pubs, and Wayside Inns, the 30-unit rural pub chain. Laurel said it was looking for a sale-and-leaseback deal to give itself a mixture of freehold and leasehold outlets, as part of a policy of "prudent property management".
Laurel is now looking at bids from property companies and finance houses for its sale and leaseback deal and hopes to start exclusive talks with a chosen bidder later this month, finalising a deal early in November.
The 10 original bidders are believed to include two property companies, London & Regional Properties, and Rotch Group, which itself owns a third of the tenanted pub chain Pubmaster.
Payne said a stock exchange flotation in the latter half of 2003 was one option depending on stock market conditions.
Laurel is owned by Morgan Grenfell Private Equity, part of Deutsche Bank, which bought Whitbread's 3,000-pub estate for £1.625bn in March 2001. It then sold more than 2,300 leased pubs in two tranches to Enterprise Inns for just over £1.1bn.
Laurel has a beer supply deal with Interbrew which accounts for about four fifths of the beer sold in its pubs, and which runs out in 2005.
Meanwhile Laurel has unveiled the new look for its Hogshead chain in five pubs in London, Nottingham, Doncaster and Cheltenham. The bars have been rebranded as Hog's Heads and put into a standalone division within Laurel called the Hogshead Pub Company, and Hog's Head customers are now called "guests". Karren Forrester, Laurel's managing director, who is now also chief operating officer for the Hogshead Pub Company, said emphasis will be put on table service: "One of the pub paradigms I'm determined to burst is that it is acceptable to have guests queue for a drink," she said. To that end, Hog's Head bars will have staff called "hoggers" whose job is to stay out in front of the bar and "make sure that what guests want is brought to them," Forrester said.
She said that although the five new Hog's Heads have been open for less than a fortnight, every one is already exceeding previous sales figures. "I know instinctively Hog's Head is right," Forrester said.
Other changes include "Harry the Hog" replacing the old barrel symbol, plasma screens, a "speed bar" selling food ant lunchtimes and bottled beer in the evenings, and price reductions on 60% of products.