Atmosphere Bars & Clubs, the 26-strong nightclub operator backed by Sun Capital Partners, is looking to rollout its Chicago Rock brand via franchise to 50 sites within the next three years, chief executive Paul Harbottle has told M&C Report. The company has already signed up its first franchisee: Perry Deakin, former chief executive of Port Vale Football Club, which was placed in administration earlier this year. Harbottle said Atmosphere has employed franchise experts Shoosmiths to help with the project. He hopes to have the first franchise site in operation by the end of this year. “My plan is that this time next year we would have five, then in the next three years that would be 50 - it ramps up quite quickly,” Harbottle said. “We need to get to 100 venues before [the business] is viable to sell on. The most obvious way is through franchising.” He explained that the deal would be a “complete franchise operation” for the high street bar brand, which would be “absolutely unique in our sector”. Harbottle said Atmosphere has identified about 30 towns and cities in the UK that it thinks would suit the franchise offer for the next stage of the company’s expansion. He said Sun Capital Partners, which specialises in buying troubled firms, “may or may not” acquire another similar operation as a “bolt on” to Atmosphere in the next 12 months. “What that has done has focused our time on a robust three-year plan.” Meanwhile, the company has hired Ashley Halliday, former head of marketing at JD Wetherspoon, as a consultant as it looks to ratchet up its marketing activity. This includes a new promotion targeting students with premium offers in the three months to Christmas. Jon Noonan, who formerly worked for Walkabout operator Intertain, has also been hired as a consultant to improve Atmosphere’s approach to working with promoters. Atmosphere’s estate current comprises 18 Chicago's, three Modello’s and four nightclubs and it recently opened an updated version of Chicago's in Stourbridge, which Harbottle said is already trading ahead of expectations. In July, the group reported a narrowing of losses in the year to 26 February due to a much lower exceptional items bill, while EBITDA and turnover both declined in the period. Losses for the period were £4.1m (2011: £4.8m) with an exceptional items charge of £723,000 (2011: £3m) relating to impairment of fixed assets, parent company management fees, one-off costs relating to the acquisitions of sites from 3D Entertainment and other charges. Turnover fell 11% to £21.5m against a 53-week reporting period last year, which the company said also explained the decline in EBITDA from £1.1m to £238,000.