A question of format
Published:  14 August, 2009

The history of establishing new republics is littered with grief, surrendered casualties, blood-letting and fraught backward steps. Just ask the French. Or, closer to home, Coffee Republic.

At the beginning of 2009, the ambitious coffee chain was riding high on the back of the fastest store growth of anyone in British Baker's Top 50 list, which tracks the big chains' performance on store numbers. Having leapfrogged into the Top 10, with 104 new outlets in just one year, and more than doubling its previous total, it has cut 10 shops, having opted to go into administration. Industry insiders question its track record of over-bidding for prime rental sites against its competitors, and failing to distinguish itself clearly enough from major competitors, such as Starbucks.

The future is hopeful for the ailing chain, however, after quickly finding a buyer through administrator KPMG last month. Despite tough trading conditions, Khalid Affara of Arab Investments was keen put the strut back into Coffee Republic's faltered momentum, stating he would be "growing the business with immediate effect".

Taking the same opportunity - if administration can ever be described thus - to restructure the business and renegotiate on rents with obstinate landlords, bring in new investment and get things shipshape, has been sandwich chain O'Briens. Ranked just outside the Top 10 at 12th, chairman Brody Sweeney cited the refusal of landlords to negotiate on rent reductions as the key reason behind its collapse. Investors have been circling - nine at the last count - and a decision on the chain's future is expected soon.

Subway draws nearer

Subway, which was predicted to overtake Greggs in mid-2009, continues to creep up on the high street bakery giant. If you count total stores across UK and Ireland (1,450), which the Top 50 list doesn't, Subway is already ahead. But in an interesting development last month, Greggs unveiled plans to branch out into forecourts, with a 500sq ft unit opened in a BP petrol station in Bury - with more planned if successful.

So is the future forecourts? Travel outlets could be 'the new high street'. BB's Coffee & Muffins, which is just outside the Top 10, below Sayers, revealed in British Baker that forecourts were a "key focus area" for business development, following successful trials. Ten more could open by the end of 2010, it said.

While the Sayers & Hampson estate stands at 150 outlets, a spokesman for the firm said : "Investment in exciting new shops is expected to increase the brands' high street presence over the next 12 months."

Meanwhile, Starbucks opened two new formats in 2008 - a drive-thru in Cardiff and drive-tos near Wisley and in Hooley. A spokesperson confirmed that Starbucks is on the look-out for new sites.

Bath-based Pasty Presto, previously missed out on our list, has popped its head up. Its 25-shop estate is predicted to swell to 30 by the close of 2010, after targeting the travel-retail sector such as motorway service stations. It is currently placed 38th.

Looking ahead, East Lothian sandwich chain Baguette Express, with 55 outlets, plans to rival Subway and Greggs on UK high streets, building a 300-store franchise network over the next five years. And Galloways Bakers, with 21 shops around Wigan, said it was omitted from the last Top 50 list. Happy to put that right.




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