Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Wolsey Empire

The BBC and the Belfast Telegraph both report that County Down's Wen Inns, a part of MAR Properties, has been put into administration.

Wen Inns controlled fifteen premises, including the Hillside in Hillsborough, the Portaferry Hotel, Lisbarnett House near Comber and The Esplanade in Bangor. The pubs are continuing to trade.

The Belfast Telegraph has reported that Mr Bill Wolsey's Beannchor group is running them on behalf of the administrator with a view to buying some of them.

MAR Properties, set up by Adam Armstrong, Bill Rush and Noel Murphy in 1997 and now heavily indebted to banks including Bank of Scotland (Ireland).

Wolsey’s pub group Beannchor has started running 15 of MAR’s pubs across Co Down on behalf of the administrators and is set to buy them outright.

Six pubs were sold to MAR for £12.5m in 2006 — but it’s understood Beannchor will buy 15 for no more than £10m, leaving it with 50 venues in its portfolio.

The deal has taken place against a backdrop of severe difficulties for the pub trade but Wolsey denied his growing empire demonstrated a ‘Midas touch’:
“We think long and hard about what market we are aiming for and how we can give that market value for money and invest in the properties. When we invest in property most people like the design.”

Beannchor plans to renovate the Portaferry Hotel. Wolsey said: 
“It has the potential to become a great getaway place and Strangford Lough really is one of [Northern] Ireland’s best-kept secrets.
“It looks attractive and I don’t like buying buildings that aren’t attractive and that’s the first thing that’s got to attract me.”

He will also carry out renovations to the Hillside pub and restaurant. “We want to restore it to what it really is — a lovely old historical building.”

It is most gratifying, in Timothy Belmont's opinion, that we have an entrepreneur who values and cherishes heritage and historic buildings; and who wishes to restore them.

Beannchor has built up a chain of four pizzerias, and hopes to open a fifth Little Wing soon — the only area Wolsey expects to grow after the acquisitions.

The jewel in the crown of Beannchor — the Irish Gaelic word for Bangor — is the Merchant Hotel in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Clearly Wolsey relishes the use of the Irish language.

Beannchor bought the old Ulster Bank in Waring Street for £1.3m, spent £10m on doing it up and opened for business in 2006.

Last year it opened the hotel’s extension at a cost of £16.5m funded by Ulster Bank to be repaid over 10 years.

Beannchor also has plans for a four star, 68-bedroomed hotel in the old National Bank building on High Street in Belfast, and a pub and cultural centre called The Dirty Onion on Waring Street.

Perhaps there is an irony there: Wolsey's hotels are more profitable than their former banking premises!

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/business-news/tycoonrsquos-pub-empire-is-irelandrsquos-biggest-16002484.html#ixzz1NFtzZJid


John Self said...

Hard to understand how such a portfolio of businesses goes belly-up. Most of us would think that bars and the like are a licence to print money! Perhaps the Carmichael group got out at the right time - the Hillside, along with several other properties, used to be theirs.

Debt, of course, is at the root of it. Perhaps more businessmen should have learned the lessons of 2008 et seq., that debt is not necessarily a sign of a thriving business! But then I confess to being old-fashioned enough to dislike even low levels of personal debt. When I see advertisements for furniture etc offering "take home now, pay later!", I shudder in horror at the thought of owning something before I've paid for it. I'd much rather have "pay now, take home later!"

Timothy Belmont said...

I frown when I see the sofa ads urging and encouraging gullible consumers to become debtors, too.

I'm afraid I believe in saving before purchasing!

Mad Mandy Moans said...

Your article is very interested Timothy and John Self has a good head on his shoulders. I have to say that when I was setting up home back in the dark ages I could not afford to pay outright for furniture and I bought mine from a mail order company and paid it off bit by bit. I was careful not to incur interest charges as I always paid on time. As austerity bites to the bone it makes sense to spread the cost of purchases if the offer is there. Of course if one had hard cold cash a discount could be had but an accountant friend always said to keep one's money making money for as long as possible. He professed that one should wait until the red notice before paying bills. Trouble is, in those days we actually made good interest on our holdings. Those days are long gone.