Walkabout owner issues profits warning

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The Independent Online

Walkabout and Jongleurs owner Regent Inns today warned that full year profits would be "minimal" and revealed that talks over a sale of the business were off.

The bar operator said there were likely to be job losses amid plans to cut costs to shore-up the business following the failure of discussions with potential suitors.

Regent Inns said it would be selling non-core properties and seeking to reduce its debt.

It has also appointed chief financial offer John Leslie as chief executive as part of a board reshuffle, which has seen Russell Scott, managing director of operations, quit the group.

Regent had been in talks over a possible sale since January, with US buyout specialist Sun Capital Partners believed to have been the front runner to buy the group.

Nightclub operator Brook Leisure is also thought to have been interesting in securing the business.

But Regent said it had not been possible to reach agreement on the terms of an offer, as its possible buyers struggled to raise cash in the difficult market conditions.

The group has suffered sales woes at its entertainment bars division, including the Australian-themed chain Walkabout, compounded by the increase in alcohol tax duty in this year's Budget.

It said today that a very difficult trading environment in the second half of its financial year had seen a "substantial" drop in like-for-like sales, further impacting results for the year to June 28.

Regent Inns had already reported a like-for-like sales decline of 10.9% at its entertainment bars arm for the period from December 30 to mid-May.

It hopes to get the business back on track by ploughing on with sale-and-leaseback plans for its freehold properties, while also trimming costs "at head office and venue level".

It declined to reveal how many jobs were under threat.

The group said chairman Bob Ivell had decided it was time to appoint a full time chief executive, promoting Mr Leslie to the role, while commercial director Simon Kaye has also been named chief operating officer.

Mr Ivell will become non-executive chairman. He plans to oversee the turnaround plan for the short-term, but is set to be replaced "in due course" by Jim Glover, who is currently the board's senior independent non-executive Director and chairman of the remuneration and appointments committee.

Regent, which is based in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, already issued a profits warning in December and said like-for-like sales had continued to decline in January after a 3.8% fall in the six months to December 29.

Pre-tax profits fell by two-thirds to £1.2 million over the period.

Regent has 63 bars in its Walkabout and Jongleurs estate, and another 31 restaurants under the Old Orleans brand.