Gary Corney’s top tips for taking on a leased pub business

Gary Corney’s top tips for taking on a leased pub business

We’ve caught up with our Operations and Sales Director for the North to talk to him about his top tips for taking on a leased pub business and what skills it takes to be successful.

*All responses from Gary Corney, Star Pubs & Bars Operations Director for the North*

Q. Are you seeing more interest in leaseholds in Scotland this year compared to previous years?

A. We’ve seen a high level of interest in our pubs in recent years and that has not abated. Edinburgh, Glasgow and towns in central Scotland are always popular, also Aberdeen and Aberfoyle. But whilst the same places tend to have the highest appeal, if a pub has traded well historically and has a great reputation, good operators are interested in it regardless of location.

Q. At a time of political and economic uncertainty, what are the benefits to operators of joining forces with a pub company? What support can your company give lessees and how has this changed in recent times?

A. In a difficult market, the partnership of a leased pub is especially beneficial. Every licensee has a dedicated business development manager who can act as an invaluable mentor, coach and source of business insight. In addition, through our regular local, regional and national forums, Star licensees get to know each other and create their own licensee networks that they can all on for advice.

We also believe a package of second-to-none practical support that it would be difficult, if not impossible to get as an independent licensee is another key benefit for those leasing pubs, especially at a time of uncertainty. All of the support we provide is there to help licensees, it’s optional, not obligatory and we get no financial benefit from the suppliers we recommend.

We provide industry-leading expertise and support on everything from business planning and training to the perfect serve, profitable food and consumer retailing to help our licensees grow their businesses.

We consult with our licensees and develop our support in line with their changing needs. For example, earlier this year we joined the Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA’s) Beerflex scheme. Licensees with Cask Marque accredited pubs can now order local cask ales brewed by Beerflex participants within a 30-mile radius of their pubs. The move meets growing pub goer demand for local beers and enables cask ale focused pubs to attract more customers by further increasing their specialisation. To help licensees benefit we’re also funding and supporting those wanting to gain Cask Marque accreditation for strong cask offers. 

On the food side, we’ve slashed ingoing costs by 60-70% thanks to a radical and unique kitchen fixtures and fittings policy. Under the policy Star owns big ticket items such as ovens, fridges and grills, helping save licensees’ capital, improve cash flow and create more sustainable businesses. It applies to business start up agreements and three-year rolling leases and is especially beneficial to licensees wanting to run food focussed pubs, where equipment start up costs can be very high.  It also makes it easier for multiple operators to grow their pub portfolios more quickly as less capital is tied up per site.

Q. What do you look for in a prospective lessee?

A. We look for three key qualities. Applicants need to be passionate about pubs, show they have a good head for business and demonstrate an understanding of hospitality and the need to deliver a great experience to customers. You can buy food and drink in the supermarket, it’s delivering an outstanding experience that is the key to success for licensees.

Experience is not essential as we offer comprehensive training and a high level of support. We actively look for people from outside the industry. Their varied business experience and fresh ideas can often breathe new life into a pub and create a unique and exciting offer.

We believe in matching the pub and the agreement to the individual licensee; all three need to align for success. We have a range of pubs and agreements to suit people with differing levels of experience. We have large operations with letting room and restaurant sides to them that are attractive to experienced operators often choosing a long term FRI lease to enable them to accrue value in the business. On the other hand, we have less complex sites available on shorter-term agreements which are ideal for new comers.

Q. What are the top three tips you would offer a first time operator?

A.   1) Make sure your business partnerships are strong.  Your agreement will likely involve a partnership with a pub company for a number of years and you therefore need to be sure it’s one you’re happy with. Look carefully at the support it offers – does it provide what you need to get started and on-going. Ask questions if you’re unsure. On another level, do you feel comfortable with the company’s partnership approach? Do you have an open and honest relationship with their representatives? Speak to other operators with the company to gain valuable insight and perspectives.

Many successful pubs involve partnerships between family members, husband and wives or business partners. Working together can put relationships under pressure; make sure you’ve thought through and agreed how you’ll make it work day-to-day with any other parties involved.

2. View the pub objectively with your business head on. Look past its current state to its potential. It should be a site where you can make a difference, that will the deliver the highest returns for your expertise and effort and that you can make into a sustainable long-term business.

3. Invest time in creating a robust and well thought out business plan. Check it with experts before making any commitment.”

At Star Pubs & Bars we firmly believe in the Great British pub and look forward to building a successful business hand in hand with you!

If you’re interested in finding out more about taking on a pub with Star Pubs & Bars then please get in touch with our recruitment team on 08085949596 or email us at