If a woman is going to make it in the cut-throat world of pub trading, having a taste for beer helps. So does deft driving, a mind for numbers and a reliable phone connection.
Kate MacDonald should know. While navigating roads in the Upper Hunter with patchy mobile phone reception, Kate brokered a A$26.25 million deal to sell the Tattersalls Hotel & Centre in Penrith.
The sale was the first hotel across the country to be both listed and bought after the COVID-19 pandemic began and presaged the resilience of the pub industry. It was also the biggest investment deal so far in MacDonald’s career and came two months after she joined JLL in June 2020. “It was,” she says, “an exciting start.”
MacDonald and her West Australian colleague Chloe Mason are JLL pub brokers, two women in a business dominated by men. They may be trailblazers in this industry in Australia but while they may be the first, they are likely not the last. They are very busy.
Pubs in Australia are trading at an unprecedented rate. Low interest rates, pent up capital, strong returns, and the reopening of hospitality venues after COVID-19 lockdowns are creating a very active investment landscape.
JLL has sold 83 pubs this year, worth A$1 billion in total. This reflects a 40 percent increase on sales volumes in 2020.
The movement of city dwellers to regional towns has also fanned the booming brokering business for pubs and taverns. MacDonald counts helping Justin Hemmes and his team at Merivale acquire their first acquisition outside of Sydney, the Quarterdeck Tiki bar in Narooma, on the NSW South Coast, as a highlight.
“Pubs”, MacDonald says, “are the new black.”
Coming from a family that owned pubs, and a former publican herself, MacDonald has sold 45 pubs over four years – 20 in 2021 alone. She’s is among a growing number of female real estate investment brokers within JLL, according to Fergal Harris, head of capital markets, Australia, JLL.
“It surprises me that there aren’t more female brokers in this space,” Harris says. “The outdated view that certain roles or asset classes were unsuited to females is, thankfully, rapidly changing.”
In West Australia, Mason says the border closures that have kept the state largely COVID-19-free during the pandemic have led to a revival of suburban pubs and a rediscovery of neighbourhoods.
The market in NSW has attracted investors because gaming and poker machines in pubs boost sales and profit. That is lacking in Western Australia where gaming is restricted to casinos, she says. In the absence of revenue from gaming, owners are adding activities such as darts or shuffleboard, she says.
Her most memorable sale involved saving a property on the Scarborough beach foreshore, a venue she used to visit in the early 2000s. When the business entered administration, she had seven days to produce an offer before the equipment would be ripped out and sold. The new owners have now turned the business around, adding bowling lanes to boost income.
As the only JLL broker for the sector in WA, Chloe is used to travelling long distances. One pub was a 15-hour drive away in a mining town in the Pilbara. She flew. Her mandate covers hotels, resorts, motels and caravan parks throughout the state.
Despite their starkly different markets, MacDonald and Mason agree on one essential thing: you need to have a taste for beer, even if your drink of choice, as in Mason’s case, is wine.
“Publicans and hoteliers are fascinating characters, some more colourful than others,” Mason says. “It makes for very interesting meetings!”