Sussex pubs chief says they are in a strong position to ‘tough it out’ despite the lockdown

Despite the latest lockdown, Hall and Woodhouse - which has much-loved pubs across Sussex - has said it is well positioned to rebuild trade and grow rapidly when the crisis is over.

Thursday, 5th November 2020, 3:51 pm

Chairman of the independent family brewers Anthony Woodhouse gave the positive assessment in a trading update in the light of the Covid crisis. “The pandemic has accelerated a number of trends - for example home working, staycations, sense of community, demise of the high street - that had already heavily influenced our long-term thinking and our growth strategy.

“This, combined with our existing superb high-quality pub estate and teams, means that we are well positioned to rebuild trade and grow rapidly when the crisis is over. More than ever it is clear that the right pubs, providing the right offer, in the right locations, will continue to be treasured by their communities as they have for millenia.”

Commenting on the business’ 2019 results he said it was always planned to be a year of change with the transition to a new generation of leaders and the next iteration of its long-term strategy.

Anthony Woodhouse, Mark Woodhouse and Lucinda Gray. Picture: Hall & Woodhouse

“Despite these distractions, ongoing pre-tax profits of just under £7million were generated for the year ended January 2020. This was broadly level with the previous one that had seen substantial growth. Net debt was reduced by £6million to £50.6million.

“It is testament to the planning, skill and hard work of the team under Matt Kearsey’s leadership, that the transition has been achieved so smoothly, whilst maintaining such an impressive trading performance.

“Since year end, the pandemic has significantly impacted the hospitality industry and our pubs’ business. However, post the first lockdown, trading levels in our pubs were significantly better than predicted, albeit on average lower than usual. We are grateful for the support provided to the industry by HM Government.

“Badger Beers and Rio have both performed excellently in the off-trade throughout this period, resulting in the Brewery’s output being significantly above last year’s volumes. Badger Direct, an online delivery service, also got off to an excellent start.

“The team could not have done a better job in getting the company into battle formation for lockdown. They then successfully managed the reopening of our pubs safely, with the priority of protecting our team members and guests. They have rightly earned plaudits from both within and outside the industry for how our teams, our Business Partners and our communities have been, and continue to be, supported during the crisis. We have acted in line with our values and our WoW (Ways of Woodhouse) culture as our current family shareholders, and indeed past generations, would have expected and demanded.

“This combined has put us in a much better position than we forecast we might be in these circumstances, with borrowings held at levels similar to last year, notwithstanding the pubs being closed throughout lockdown. However, we have to be realistic that this winter will be hard for us all, as the second lockdown illustrates. Despite this, we are in the privileged position that our business has been built over many generations, with us owning the vast majority of our pubs and having limited borrowings. We are therefore in a very strong position to tough it out, balancing the needs of the company with looking after our teams and our Business Partners as well as we possibly can.”

Hall and Woodhouse established a strong presence in the county, especially around Horsham, when it acquired King and Barnes and its chain of pubs some 20 years ago.

Since then it has been committed to the community, running a Community Chest with this newspaper as media partner for many of those years and giving hundreds of thousands of pounds to local worthy causes.