Three Thistles selling ‘magnificent seven’ portfolio of pubs

Inside The Clockwork Beer Co in Glasgow’s Southside

Pub company Three Thistles has revealed its ‘exit strategy’ for shareholders amid difficult economic conditions for the trade – it is selling its portfolio of seven Scottish central belt venues.

That pub portfolio includes a number of well-known businesses – Dram!, The Clockwork Beer Co and The West Side Tavern, in Glasgow; The Steading in Edinburgh; The Laird and Dog in Lasswade; Telfords in Paisley; and The Dog House in Balloch – all of which are managed by Caledonian Heritable Limited.

Three Thistles has instructed Shepherd Chartered Surveyors to sell the leaseholds either individually or as a job lot. The firm is now inviting offers, and has said that trading information will be available to parties recording a formal note of interest – and signing a non-disclosure agreement.

In February of this year, in Three Thistles’ financial statements for the year October 2021 to October 2022, it announced that, despite a leap in turnover post-lockdown, it had been obliged to re-value its assets, knocking £1million off their recorded 2019 valuation, with a resultant negative impact on overall profitability for the year.

At that time, chairman David Low said that ‘recognising the economic landscape we find ourselves in’, Three Thistles’ directors would then be ‘prioritising an exit strategy’ that would protect shareholders’ existing value.

The Steading, on Biggar Road, on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh

While Mr Low cited the lingering effects of Covid, and the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, he also mentioned ScotGov’s planned Deposit Return Scheme and the consultation on alcohol marketing as factors that Three Thistles’ directors were taking into account while considering whether to keep shareholders’ money in pub businesses.

Despite the subsequent collapse of the DRS, Mr Low’s November trading update revealed that the group’s unaudited numbers for the financial year to 30 September 2023 showed a turnover of £4.0m compared with £4.1m in the previous year, and an operating loss of £0.1m compared with an operating profit of £0.2m.

“Given the commitment the directors made in February to provide a direct exit option, we can confirm that we have appointed Shepherd, chartered surveyors as the exclusive agent to market the whole estate for sale,” stated Mr Low.

Whether or not Three Thistles’ retreat from the sector is eventually proven to be wise, or excessively cautious, there is no doubt that the seven businesses it has put on the market are high profile outposts of hospitality.

Dram! on Glasgow’s Woodlands Rd is a popular student haunt

Head of Hospitality & Leisure at Shepherd, Gary Louttit, said: “I am delighted to be bringing this highly sought after portfolio of licensed premises to the market and am confident that there will be a strong  level of interest from both local and national established operators in the sector.

“The ability to add such high profile and well trading outlets to an existing portfolio offers a rare acquisition opportunity.

Louttit added: “Despite the many challenges faced by the licensed trade in Scotland, many businesses are trading well and buyer appetite for such businesses remains strong, particularly within the central belt, as is underlined by the recent sales of other iconic businesses such as The Ubiquitous Chip, Hanoi Bike Shop and Stravaigin.”

Six of the seven properties in the portfolio are held on a freehold basis, while The West Side Tavern is held on a leasehold basis.