Oakman Inns & Restaurants might be prevented from running pubs in the way it is used to while lockdown restrictions are in place, but rather than waiting for green shoots of recovery to appear it is proactively taking steps to sow those seeds now. Here are five things the Hertfordshire-based chain is doing to mount a fightback in the strongest possible way.
1. Pipeline prospects
Oakman has a substantial pipeline of sites ready for development during 2021. In addition to existing locations in Buckingham, Wokingham and Epsom, it has now added a significant freehold site in Harpenden. Further announcements are expected in the near future with a number of negotiations taking place to accelerate the pace of growth.
Oakman’s executive chairman, Peter Borg-Neal, said: “We believe that there is a huge unsatisfied consumer demand for premium public houses right across the UK. Large pubs with a strong all day food offer, a high level of amenity and, most importantly, great people running them is the future of the pub market. We want to play a big part in fulfilling that demand.”
2. Equity fundraising
Oakman’s growth ambitions will require funding and, with private equity funds focusing on distressed assets, Oakman launched an equity fundraise just before Christmas aimed at private individuals. Despite the unhelpful backdrop of the national lockdown there has been an excellent response.
Chief investment officer, Steven Kenee, said the group has already received applications for more than £3.6m of shares and it is quietly confident that it will reach the £4.5m target it set for this round.
“I am also really pleased that we have welcomed 170 new shareholders into the Oakman family,” he added. “Their participation demonstrates the trust and affection our customers have for their local Oakman Inn. To meet all our ambitions, we will require further funding; however, we only want business partners who are interested in long-term, intelligent investment into a sustainable business model.”
3. Reopening plan
Oakman delivered a record quarter during the time the business was able to trade during 2020 and remains bullish about the prospects of the business when the time comes to reopen. It plans to open all its pubs on the first day it is allowed to do so, and expects to trade very strongly from day one. “During lockdown we have worked hard to keep our people engaged and we have also developed some exciting new products that will add to our forward momentum,” said CEO Dermot King.
“Our remarkable performance last year has left us brimming with confidence for the future. Reopening will, of course, be a challenge but the fantastic teams that delivered that performance are still with us and are raring to go again.”
4. Engaged teams
Oakman’s 1,000 employees have been kept engaged and in good spirits. A massive Facebook group for existing team members provides a range of activities, including wellness sessions, voluntary online training courses, quizzes, photographic competitions, baking tournaments and even a fundraising 5k run, ride or walk for the Mind mental health charity.
Zoom meetings, support groups and a policy of ensuring that those excluded from government financial support or furlough schemes are found employment are all designed to prevent team members falling through any cracks. Mr King added: “It may not be clear yet when we will be able to open, but when the time comes, our people and our pubs will be ready and better than ever. In the meantime, we have some excellent new sites in the development pipeline.”
5. New concept roll-outs
At The Royal Foresters, Oakman has opened an experimental deli and bakery for locals and lockdown chefs desperately seeking that missing ingredient, and new dishes have been added to its growing takeaway menu including more wood-fired pizzas, Sunday roasts and meal bundles.
Mr King said: “We have the teams, we have the kitchens, we have the sustainable food suppliers and now we have established a second-to-none delivery service, we will be powering ahead with our new services. Many of our regulars and neighbours have been asking us to make our food available across the 12 counties we currently operate in.”
Additionally, chef director, Ross Pike, has been busy creating a new ‘Oakman at Home’ dining offer for regular customers. The Cook at Home meal kits feature favourites from Oakman’s restaurant menu, such as the slow roast belly of pork (£12 pp) and Ultimate burger (£10 pp) A special three-course Valentine’s Feast has been added with more dishes and themed boxes set to be launched over the coming weeks.