Ultimate Leisure Group PLC - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Ultimate Leisure Group PLC

26 Mosley Street
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 1DF
United Kingdom

Company Perspectives:

Quite simply we are owners, designers and operators of atmospheric dr inking venues in which enjoyment flourishes.

Ultimate Leisure, predominantly based in the North East of England, i s one of the most exciting and innovative bar operators in the countr y.

The Company's philosophy is to identify under developed, prime sites; to design and develop these into unique, stylish and imaginative dri nking venues; and to attract and empower and develop staff who commit to the Ultimate Leisure ethos.

With over 30 trading sites Ultimate Leisure is the predominant bar op erator in the North East of England and is expanding its concepts fur ther afield into other towns and cities.

History of Ultimate Leisure Group PLC

Ultimate Leisure Group PLC operates more than 30 bars and nightclubs in northern England and Ireland, most of which it owns. The firm's si tes are typically large, stylish venues located in established "drink ing circuit" areas and geared toward a younger clientele. The company utilizes several different bar concepts, including lounge-styled Cha se/Barbacca/Quilted Llama, Western-themed Coyote Wild, and tropical B each/Blubambu. In 2005 founder and Chairman Allan Rankin, CEO Bob Sen ior, and several other top managers and directors left the firm under pressure from stockholders who wanted expansion to speed up.


Ultimate Leisure Group was founded in 1997 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, En gland, with backing from local businessman Allan Rankin and his famil y, who operated metal galvanizing concern the Metnor Group and other companies. The firm was chartered to focus on developing large, styli sh venues in drinking circuit areas that were already home to numerou s bars, with particular emphasis placed on attracting women, which wa s a time-honored way to lure male customers. The new company would be headed by Bob Senior, who had more than two decades' experience in t he pub business.

Newcastle, located on England's northeast coast, was renowned for its nightlife, with some 135 bars in the city's mile-square Bigg Market area. At this time more than half were owned by brewing company Scott ish & Newcastle, and because of restrictive local laws new liquor licenses were essentially unavailable, with the only way to enter th e market through acquisition.

Shortly after commencing operations, the firm purchased five bars and a hotel in the center of Newcastle along with an undeveloped propert y on that city's Quayside, where the 560-capacity Chase bar opened th e following year. The firm had spent £3 million acquiring and r enovating the lounge-style venue, which featured a beer garden nestle d under the Tyne bridge. Revenues for 1998 were £5 million, wit h a profit of £680,000.

After acquiring three more bars and a hotel in nearby Whitley Bay, by early 1999 Ultimate Leisure was operating a total of nine pubs and t wo hotels. These included the Waterside Hotel and the Vault, Ram Jam, Love Shack, and Chase bars in Newcastle; and the Rex Hotel and Deep Club Cafe in Whitley Bay. The company had 300 employees.

Public Stock Offering in 1999

In late July 1999 the firm's stock began trading on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market, after which its name became Ultimate Leisure Group PLC. The initial offering of a one-fourth own ership stake raised £6 million, which would soon be used for up grading existing facilities and to make new acquisitions. Afterward, the family of cofounder and Commercial Director Allan Rankin continue d to hold a controlling interest in the firm.

In November four more Newcastle bars were purchased from Allied Leisu re PLC for £3.7 million, and a few weeks later two bars and a r estaurant in Sunderland were acquired for £1.3 million from an independent operator. The company also had recently refurbished the R ex Hotel in Whitley Bay and the Yel Bar in Newcastle and begun work o n several other new sites. The first of these to open, in early March 2000, was the Sports Bar Cafe in Newcastle, which had been developed at a cost of £1 million.

For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2000, Ultimate Leisure reported re venues of £12 million, up from £8.3 million in 1999, and a profit of £3.2 million. Later that summer the new 995-capacit y Sea nightclub opened in Newcastle's popular Quayside area, which fe atured a dance floor and VIP lounge. Another club in Newcastle, Maste rs Bar, also had recently been refurbished with modern, stylish fixtu res and renamed Bar M.

Expansion Beyond Newcastle Continuing in 2001

As competition in the area increased and national firms began to aggr essively seek entrée into Newcastle's prime drinking circuit, Ultimate Leisure began looking at more opportunities for growth furth er afield. In early 2001 sites were acquired in Sunderland, Durham, a nd South Shields, and in June the firm reached an agreement to buy a hotel/restaurant called The Gresham in the Jesmond suburb of Newcastl e for £570,000. Jesmond recently had become a hot destination f or drinkers, and the company began converting the hotel into a large bar. Ultimate Leisure also unveiled the refurbished Chase Bar in Newc astle in June 2001, with capacity increased to 780.

In July the company paid £1.6 million to buy an established bar /nightclub in the college town of Durham called Klute, which could se rve 400. At this time Allan Rankin was named to the newly created tit le of chief executive of the company, with Bob Senior serving as mana ging director and Jon Pither as board chair. For 2001 sales of &pound ;16.6 million were recorded. The firm now had 500 employees.

In October 2001 Ultimate Leisure opened a new 1,300-capacity bar in S underland called Beach, which featured a tropical theme that would la ter reappear elsewhere. Fall also saw more venues purchased outside t he Newcastle area, including the Glasshouse bar in Nottingham and a 1 ,600-capacity venue in Rotherham that was closed for refurbishing.

In early 2002 £13 million of credit was secured through the Roy al Bank of Scotland, at the same time that a new license in Newcastle 's Bigg Market was acquired. It was the first in the area with a 2 a. m. closing time, later than the British pub's standard last call of 1 1 p.m. The license would be used for a new 1,300-capacity bar under d evelopment on a leased site. In May the company also bought the Venic e Bar in South Shields, which was licensed to serve drinks until 2 a. m. as well.

The late summer of 2002 saw Beach Rotherham opened, along with a Sund erland pub that had been converted into a Chase bar. In September the firm's late-closing Bigg Market property was completed and opened as Blubambu, a variation on the Beach theme.

Debut of Coyote Wild in Autumn of 2002

The fall of 2002 also saw an 800-capacity venue opened in South Shiel ds called Coyote Wild, inspired by the recent Hollywood film Coyot e Ugly in which lightly clad female bartenders danced on top of a bar and sprayed water on patrons. It was decorated in a western them e and featured a mechanized "bucking bronco" that customers could rid e to win drinks. Later in the year a lease also was signed on a prope rty in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a bar was purchased in Mansfiel d.

In early 2003 the firm linked up with a pair of British television st ars known as Ant & Dec, who invested £175,000 to help conve rt the firm's Johnny Ringo's bar in Newcastle into The Lodge, which h ad a license to serve drinks until 1 a.m. April saw the opening of th e Bambu Beach club at the recently leased site in Belfast's Odyssey C omplex, and in May the firm's second Coyote Wild opened in Mansfield, while a Chase-style bar called The Quilted Llama opened in Nottingha m.

Revenues for 2003 topped £26.5 million, with a net profit of &p ound;6.8 million before taxes. One-third of earnings had been generat ed outside of the company's Newcastle stronghold. Employment now stoo d at more than 1,000.

In August 2003 Ultimate Leisure paid £4.2 million for two neigh boring bars and a nightclub with a combined capacity of 1,000 in Belf ast. In October the firm raised an additional £20 million throu gh a new issue of 6.9 million shares of stock.

The company was renovating a 140-year-old former post office in Derby that it had recently purchased, which was opened as a Coyote Wild ba r in December. A total investment of £3 million had been made i n the 900-capacity venue, which would serve alcohol until 1:30 a.m. O ther properties also had been acquired recently in Leeds, Ireland, an d Derby, and work on converting a former boathouse site in Durham int o a new Chase was ongoing.

Gresham Dispute Reaching the High Court in 2003

Although most of the company's acquisitions had been relatively strai ghtforward, the conversion of the Gresham Hotel in Newcastle into a 4 50-capacity bar had faced particularly strong opposition from neighbo rs in the upscale Jesmond area. There were already other bars nearby, but protesters voiced fears that the new venue would bring an increa se in noise and rowdy, drunken behavior like that associated with Big g Market. It was in fact legal to transfer the license of a bar that had been demolished by order of the city, as the firm was seeking to do, but in January the transfer request was turned down by local magi strates because of inadequate soundproofing. The case was appealed to the High Court in London, and in the summer, after word surfaced tha t the anti-Gresham campaign was being funded by a rival firm, the Hig h Court decided in favor of Ultimate Leisure. In December the license transfer was approved, and the venue was finally opened as Barbacca. Several months later, however, the ruling was again overturned, thou gh the company was given permission to continue operating while an ap peal was made.

In March 2004 a new Chase bar opened in Durham, which had taken five years to complete due to another lengthy public inquiry. In August th e firm opened its refurbished City Vaults bar in Newcastle's Bigg Mar ket area, with capacity for 1,200 and a late license, at a cost of &p ound;1.5 million. That same month a nightclub called Halo and a secon d Quilted Llama bar, with total capacity of 1,600, opened in Leeds in the former Trinity St. David's church building next to the Universit y. September saw the firm buy a site in Cork, Southern Ireland, which it began refurbishing. Also in 2004, board Chairman Jon Pither retir ed, and Allan Rankin took his place and turned the chief executive du ties over to Bob Senior.

Public drinking had been deregulated recently in England after many d ecades of an 11 p.m. pub closing time, and much media coverage was gi ven to the feared increase in binge and round-the-clock drinking it m ight cause. Ultimate Leisure responded to such concerns by announcing that it would not offer all-inclusive drink pricing at its bars, and would not change any to 24-hour service.

In the latter half of 2004 and into early 2005 growth began to slow a s the firm found suitable new properties harder to acquire, and busin ess declined at some bars due to fierce competition and stepped-up po licing in the wake of deregulation. The firm also was experiencing de lays in finishing its Cork Blubambu bar, a Chase in South Shields, an d Jimmy'z in Newcastle Quayside.

Management Shake-Up in 2005

Rumors about a possible sale of the company began surfacing in the su mmer of 2005, and after a dispute with shareholders who wanted expans ion sped up, in August the firm's top management, including CEO Bob S enior, Chairman Allan Rankin, and several board members, resigned. Ra nkin sold his holdings in the firm, and Senior and another company ex ecutive founded Utopian Leisure Group to re-enter the bar/restaurant business with £50 million in new funding. Mark Jones was appoin ted executive chairman of Ultimate Leisure, and pledged to continue m aking acquisitions in accordance with shareholder wishes.

Less than a decade after its founding, Ultimate Leisure Group PLC had assembled a collection of more than two dozen bars and nightclubs in northern England and Ireland, many of which used the firm's beach, w estern, or lounge themes. Under new management, the company sought to maintain its pace of expansion in an increasingly challenging market .

Principal Competitors: Luminar PLC; Punch Taverns PLC; JD Weth erspoon PLC; Enterprise Inns PLC; Mitchells & Butler PLC; Spirit Group Ltd.; Rindberg Holding Company; Inventive Leisure PLC; Greene K ing PLC.


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