St Austell retail director Steve Worrall has told MCA that the family brewer is keen to ramp up its acquisition strategy in 2019 as it seeks to fill in the gaps between its Cornwall/Devon heartland and its investments around Bath.
Worrall said the group had three main rollout models in the Samuel Jones craft beer bar format, Graze Bar & Chophouse, the two-strong concept inherited as part of the Bath Ales acquisition and its Coastal Pub & Kitchen template, which is currently in 10 of its managed sites.
However, he stressed that these were retail formats as opposed to brands and that for St Austell “the pub is always the hero”.
Worrall, who heads up the tenanted and managed business and will take on the property brief in the New Year, said that the driving force within St Austell was “conscious innovation” and that models would only be rolled out when their success was proven.
Worrall said that the broad target for St Austell was to add three sites a year and that this covered both the c30-strong managed and c150-strong tenanted business.
He said: “At the moment the focus is mainly on individual acquisitions but we would look at a small parcels of pubs as well and it’s pretty straightforward what we look for – if we can see where the guests are coming from and understand the competitive landscape then we are interested. We have a couple of things in the pipeline and we keep our eye on the market.
“We’re looking at the whole of the South West. At the moment, we have got a lot of pubs in Cornwall and in south Devon, a few in north Devon and then it jumps to Bath so there are opportunities to infill.”
On the formats driving the growth, Worrall said: “In our managed estate we have a mixed model of food where we sometimes have a head chef and GM led offer and for others we have a menu which we help them develop ourselves. That Coastal Pub & Kitchen model has proved really successful and we see plenty of opportunity for it.
“Graze is a great offer and we have really got the two sites firing. It’s informing our acquisition strategy.
“Samuel Jones has been a real success for us but we know that it needs the right location, physicality of site and demographic to make it work.
“When we are looking at sites, we know we have the flexibility of three different offers we can look at - one would be Sam Jones, one would be Graze and one would be the Coastal Kitchen offer. But, more than anything else we believe the pub is the hero. Retail concepts can support it but ultimately it’s down to the strength of the pub.”
He said there was also considerable opportunity within the accommodation offer, with c700 rooms currently across the estate.
He said: “Staycations in the South West is a massive growth area. We have about 360 rooms across the managed estate and a similar number in the tenanted business and there is room to grow that side of the business.”
On the St Austell philosophy, Worrall said: “There’s a lovely phrase in the business about conscious innovation and it argues against some of the negative views of family brewers that they are not progressive. We are constantly looking at things, and if they work, we roll them out.”