‘AT the end of the day we want pubs to succeed because, without them, we would not succeed either’.
These were the words of Andy Slee, external affairs and central operations director at Punch Taverns, who spoke to the Mail as part of a behind-the-scenes look at the Centrum 100-based pub firm.
He discussed moves by the company, which employes more than 200 staff in the town, to secure its long-term future and also to help people who run their pubs make them a success.
Mr Slee said: “Everyone here is really hopeful of a bright future for the firm in Burton and beyond.”
The firm recently moved to allay fears that without changes it would be unable to continue trading as a going concern, after announcing that if a deal to reduce its £2.3 billion debt pile was not agreed, it could default on loans held against company assets.
The firm is hopeful that a consensual restructuring can be agreed before the end of 2013.
Mr Slee added: “Everyone who needs to be is around the table, and that is a very good thing.
“We are very, very confident that a restructure will be agreed and this will allow us to get back to making Punch the best it can be.”
The firm is aiming to return to its former glories via several different methods.
It is already finding success with two agreements it is putting in place with people running their pubs, or those who may want to take the leap into the business.
The Punch Franchise Agreement is aimed at people new to the industry and offers 12 months of intense support to ensure that a pub is given every tool needed to make it a success.
It is also looking to entice more entrepreneurs into the business with flexible leases and other offers.
“We have had some great success with these initiatives and hope for more in the future,” said Mr Slee.
The firm is looking to reduce its core estate of pubs to around 3,000 as part of its bid to reduce its £2 billion debt pile.
These will be venues that are, or can be, a success for the firm.
Mr Slee said: “In some places there are too many pubs and this is why we are reducing the number we have.
“It means the ones left will be successful ones, and ones that we plough more effort into making an even bigger success.
“The closure of pubs will always be an emotive subject.
“At the moment corner shops are closing at a greater rate than pubs, but people do not have as much of an emotional link with corner shops as they do pubs.”
During the past year, 433 pubs were sold off, which helped to bring in a whopping £149 million.
The bid to turn around corner shops across the country has also influenced the way Punch is working to try to improve.
“We looked at the way corner shops could come under the banner of the likes of Spar and Costcutter, and are a success due to the backing of a big brand.
“This is what we had in mind with the Punch Buying Club.
“It is not a franchise system, but it allows all pubs involved a range of benefits.
“Being part of the club allows them to get bulk discounts on all manner of things, from drink to electrical goods, as well as help and support.”
More than 85 per cent of Punch pubs are now part of the club.
Despite the positive outlook for the firm, doubts will still hang over it until a restructuring deal is announced.
It is slowly starting to make progress after being burdened with debt and unwanted pubs after the demerger from Spirit in 2011.
It is also bidding to appeal to the likes of organisations such as CAMRA, and to customer demand by placing greater emphasis on real ale in its pubs.
Mr Slee concluded: “Pubcos will and probably will always have a negative hanging over them, but we are trying our best to change that image and we are making progress.
“We make mistakes and when we do we hold our hands up, but at the end of the day we want to be a success and we want our pubs to be a success.
“We are working to try to offer a great business to people in the industry, in Burton and across the entire length and breadth of the country.”