Vernon House, 40 Shaftesbury Avenue
Urbium PLC operates premium bars in high footfall venues in major urb an markets, with a substantial food offer and corporate business.
Urbium PLC has built up one of the United Kingdom's fastest-growing p ortfolios of bars and nightclubs, and is the dominant bar owner in Lo ndon's West End. Essentially launched in 1998, the company has opened a string of some ten Tiger Tiger-branded large-scale nightclubs acro ss the United Kingdom, combining restaurant, bar service, and dancing in a single multifloor complex. The Tiger Tiger clubs feature capaci ty ranging from 1,300 to 2,000, and target a more affluent 25- to 45- year-old market seeking a less raucous environment than the typical y outh-oriented nightclub. Tiger Tiger clubs hold late-night licenses, allowing them to commence restaurant service at noon and continue to operate until as late as 3 a.m. Since 1998, Urbium has opened Tiger T iger clubs in London (Haymarket), Aberdeen, Croyden, Dublin, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth, and elsewhere, and planned to open a new generation of the Tiger Tiger concept in Cardiff befor e the end of 2005. Urbium, which founded its nightclub operations wit h the purchase of three West End bars from Luminar in 1998, has conti nued to build its portfolio of London establishments. The company ope rates a number of smaller bars and nightclubs throughout the city, in cluding Abacus, Agenda, Alibi, On Anon, Oxygen, Ruby Blue, Strawberry Moons, Sway, Zoo Bar, and others. The dominant bar group in the popu lar West End section of London, Urbium has been expanding its presenc e throughout the city into the mid-2000s. Urbium was created through the split of Chorion PLC into its intellectual property and nightclub operations, and subsequently listed on the London Stock Exchange. In October 2005, however, the company agreed to be acquired in a manage ment-led buyout by Electra Partners.
Property Group in the 1990s
Urbium essentially began as a property investment vehicle acquiring t he famed Trocadero, on London Piccadilly Circus, in the mid-1990s. Th e Trocadero itself had been a London landmark for more than 100 years . Located on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Windmill Street, th e site had first achieved notoriety as the Argyll Rooms. Opened in 18 51, the Argyll Rooms operated as a nightclub, theater, and restaurant . The Argyll Rooms became well known among the city's nobility and ot her society figures for its masquerade balls, but also for its operat ion as a brothel in its rooms upstairs. The notoriety of this latter activity, however, led to the loss of the establishment's license in 1878.
Operated by various theater owners until the mid-1890s, the site's tr ue glory came in 1896, when its 99-year lease was acquired by J. Lyon s & Co. Lyons refurbished the property as the Trocadero, widely c onsidered as among the world's finest and most lavish restaurants. In deed, the restaurant and banquet hall inspired the appearance of nume rous "Trocaderos" throughout the world. A famous feature of the site, the Long Bar, was added in 1901. In 1916, the site hosted its first concert tea. Later, in the 1920s, the Trocadero launched its own caba ret, which remained a popular destination into the early 1940s.
In the years following the end of World War II, however, the Trocader o lost much of its former luster. By the 1960s, the Trocadero had bec ome outmoded. The restaurant shut its doors in 1965. The site, howeve r, remained a highly prized location, particularly with the importanc e of Piccadilly Circus as a London destination during the period.
In the 1980s, the Trocadero was acquired by the Burford Group, a high -flying properties group created as an offshoot for a London commodit ies firm. Led by Nick Leslau and Nigel Wray, Burford set out to trans form the Trocadero site into a multifaceted leisure complex, combinin g retail shopping and various entertainment outlets.
Burford spun off the Trocadero site as a separate company called Troc adero PLC. The new company set out to expand the entertainment portio n of the site, adding an Imax theater, an amusement park-styled attra ction, the Drop Ride, and, in 1996, the £50 million Segaword, b illed as a virtual reality theme park. Yet these failed to attract th e desired public.
New management, led by John Conlan and Nick Tamblyn, both formerly of the First Leisure group, took over Trocadero PLC's operation in 1997 . The new team decided to take the company into an entirely different direction or, rather, two new directions. The first was intellectual property. The business was to be based on the company's holding of t he rights to the characters and works of popular British children's w riter Enid Blyton. Acquired in 1996, the former management had intend ed to incorporate the characters into the Trocadero site.
Instead, the new Trocadero PLC began acquiring other intellectual pro perty holdings and, most notably, the worldwide rights to the Agatha Christie catalog, as well as the rights to the Simenon series of book s. In the meantime, the Trocadero itself had run into difficulties, f ailing to attract a sufficient public. In 1997, Burford Holdings agre ed to reacquire the Trocadero site.
Trocadero PLC continued operating under that name into the beginning of 1998, before changing its name to Chorion PLC in April of that yea r. Part of the impetus for the name change came with the launch of th e company's second line of business: bar and nightclub ownership. In 1998, the company reached an agreement with Luminar PLC to acquire th ree of its West End London bar properties--Oxygen, Zoo Bar/Venom, and Bar Madrid--for £10.9 million. Although observers were somewha t skeptical over the acquisition, Chorion had spotted an opportunity in the bar scene. For Chorion, although the younger market was well s erved with nightclubs, there were few venues serving the older and mo re affluent 25- to 45-year-old set. Yet Chorion recognized that this market, with its high level of disposable income, would welcome bars and nightclubs more specifically catering to it.
Chorion then began preparations to launch a new large-scale late-nigh t (that is, open until 2 or 3 a.m.) nightclub concept. Dubbed "Tiger Tiger," the new nightclub, to be opened in London's Haymarket, featur ed a multifloor concept offering multiple environments, including a r estaurant, a bar, and dancing, and a capacity of nearly 2000. The Tig er Tiger club was designed to be contemporary, but not trendy, matchi ng the tastes of its target public, but also in a bid to extend the c lub's longevity. By not catering to a prevailing trend, the company h oped to avoid a shift in consumer interest as the next trend came alo ng.
Nightclub Leader in the 2000s
The first Tiger Tiger opened to critical, and popular, acclaim in Nov ember 1998. Chorion quickly began plans to expand the brand on a nati onal level. Meanwhile, the company continued acquiring London propert ies in a bid to become one of the dominant nightclub players in that city.
Chorion soon achieved its aim, and by 2000 the company's strong posit ion in the West End section in particular allowed it to claim leaders hip in the London market. The company was also highly profitable. By the end of 1999, the company posted a 19 percent profit despite the c osts of its acquisition and the £6.5 million price tag involved in the creation of the first Tiger Tiger.
The company's strong balance sheet enabled it to launch a full-scale expansion of its nightclub business. Through 2000 and into 2001, the company opened or acquired a number of new sites, focusing on the Lon don market, with the West End remaining at its core. As such Chorion added names such as Loop, Sway, and On Anon, which offered nightclub concepts similar to those of the Tiger Tiger format; the lounge-led b ars Babble, Digress, The Boardwalk, and the Warwick, which provided a smaller and lower key setting, targeting predominantly the after-wor k professional set; and restaurants, including the Sugar Reef, near P icadilly Circus, and Red Cube, near Leicester Square. The company als o maintained its original club acquisitions, including Oxygen, Zoo, a nd Bar Madrid. These, however, targeted a younger crowd.
Meanwhile, the Tiger Tiger brand led Chorion's expansion to the natio nal, and even international, level. The company opened its first Tige r Tiger outside of London in 2000, in England's second largest city, Birmingham. This initiated a quick rollout of the Tiger Tiger brand, and by 2002, the company operated Tiger Tigers in Manchester, Leeds, Portsmouth, and Newcastle, among others. The company also targeted an introduction into the European market, opening its first Tiger Tiger in Dublin, while planning an extension of the brand to Spain, a popu lar destination for British holiday-goers.
During this time, Chorion's intellectual property business had also g rown strongly, to the point at which the company had become one of th e most prominent in this segment as well. In 2002, therefore, the com pany decided to conduct a "de-merger" of its two different businesses , spinning off its nightclub business into a new, publicly listed ent ity, Urbium PLC. The intellectual property business retained the Chor ion name.
Urbium spent the next year consolidating its holdings. As such, the c ompany put new bar openings on a temporary hold, while it refurbished and upgraded its existing properties. The Tiger Tiger concept receiv ed particular attention as the company shifted its model toward still larger capacity venues. Nonetheless, the Tiger Tiger concept proved highly flexible. For example, when the company opened its next new ni ghtclub, in Aberdeen in 2003, it scaled down the Tiger Tiger there to a maximum accommodation of just 1,300 people.
On the whole, the Tiger Tiger concept remained highly successful. Ind eed, its flagship club in the London Haymarket even managed to increa se its customer base over its first five years in business, a rarity in the nightclub market. The only negative was the group's experience in Birmingham, where the property's location, at the new Five Point complex, did not attract enough of the relatively upscale clientele t argeted by the Tiger Tiger concept.
Urbium returned to expansion in 2004. The company acquired two new Lo ndon properties at the beginning of the year. The company also opened a new bar, Abacus, in London's Cornhill, that year. By the end of 20 04, Urbium had acquired yet another London property, the Strawberry M oons nightclub, located near the city's Regent Street. For that purch ase, Urbium paid £1.45 million. The company's expansion continu ed into 2005, with the purchase of another London bar, the Walkabout. That site, renamed the Alibi under Urbium, also marked the group's e ntry into the City financial district.
Urbium prepared to launch a still more ambitious expansion to take it into the second half of the 2000s. In February 2005, company Chairma n Conlan announced the group's plan to acquire or open another 15 new properties in London, and as many as 50 more nationwide.
In June 2005, however, the company received a takeover offer from riv al Regent Inns. The company rejected that offer, yet decided to accep t bids for the group from private equity groups. As Conlan told the Financial Times: "The sector is going through a period of conso lidation and restructuring and that is easier to do in the private ar ena."
As a result, the company was approached by investment group Electra P artners. The two sides ultimately worked out a buyout agreement, invo lving members of Urbium's management. In October 2005, Electra set up a buyout vehicle, Lightflower, and acquired Urbium for £113 mi llion. Urbium was said to be considering a change of name at the end of 2005 as it prepared to extend its leading position among the Briti sh nightclub circuit.
Principal Subsidiaries: Latenightlondon.co.uk.
Principal Competitors: Compass Group PLC; Whitbread PLC; Mitch ells and Butlers PLC; J D Wetherspoon PLC; Enterprise Inns PLC; Green e King PLC; Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries PLC; Spirit Group Ltd. ; Luminar PLC; Laurel Pub Company Ltd.