On my journey to work, there are two pubs within half a mile of each other with their freehold up for sale. They are both prominent, striking buildings with their own car park, situated on a busy main road with a very frequent bus service, and currently trading, not closed and boarded. They are less than two miles from the centre of one of Manchester’s major satellite towns. Yes, they’re in a working-class area, but there’s plenty of housing nearby and a lot of thriving businesses – it’s no derelict wasteland. Yet you could probably snap up either of them for less than £200,000.
In fact, looking around at the number of pubs for sale, it would be easy to build up an impressive pub estate at knock-down prices. They may not be in the absolute top rank of locations, and may need a bit of refurbishment, but there are plenty on the market that appear perfectly viable. On the face of it, this would seem like a golden opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs. But the days when the success of a brewery was judged by the size of its pub estate are long gone, and despite the Pollyannaish blandishments that the pub trade is starting to turn up, nobody’s biting.
It seems that, unless you have a position on a town-centre or suburban drinking circuit, or are in a location where you can attract a destination dining trade, pretty much any pub nowadays is a fundamentally unappealing proposition. They may continue trading for the time being, but if they happen to suffer a period of closure, then it’s very unlikely that anyone will want to step in and breathe new life into them. All this suggests that we are still a very long way from seeing the end of the wave of closures and that more and more areas of the country are going to become pub deserts over the next decade.
Of course one can point to individual success stories, but it has always been possible for keen-eyed operators to do well in a declining market. The Magnet in Stockport is a good example, but it very much caters for a niche market, and it doesn’t follow that pubs like the Bow Garrett or the Wrights Arms could be revived by applying the same formula.
If you had up to £300,000 to invest in a pub freehold, you will find plenty of pubs in all kinds of locations on the Fleurets website. But how many do you think you, or indeed anyone, could really make a go of?