XP Factory group revenue up 163% and a well-developed pipeline of sites

Escape Hunt

XP Factory plc (LON:XPF) has announced its audited final results for the year ended 31 December 2021.

FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS

·   Group revenue up 163% at £7.0m (2020: £2.7m)
·   Adjusted EBITDA of £2.7m (2020: loss £1.4m) inclusive of £2.6m R&D credits, net of associated costs 
·   Pre-IFRS 16 Adjusted EBITDA profit of £0.5m in the six months to 31 December 2021 (2020: loss £0.9m demonstrating critical mass achieved 
·   Escape Hunt™ owner-operated revenue up 189% to £6.0m (2020: £2.1m)
·   £3.4m positive Site Level EBITDA from owner-operated sites (2020: £0.4m) was driven by a strong bounce back in trade post lifting of Covid restrictions in mid-May 2021 
·   Franchise EBITDA of £0.3m (2020: £0.3m)
·   Group operating loss of £0.5m (2020: loss of £6.4m) helped by strong H2 trading and £2.6m R&D credits (net) 
·   £16.1m net of expenses raised through an equity placing and open offer to fund acquisition of Boom Battle Bar in November 2021 
·   Cash at year end £8.2m (2020: £2.7m) and £6.9m on 30 April 2022

OPERATIONAL AND STRATEGIC HIGHLIGHTS

·   Successful acquisition of Boom Battle Bar and renaming of the Group to XP Factory Plc in November 2021 
·   Post-acquisition, 1 new Boom owner operated site opened at the O2 Arena and 1 new franchise site in Coventry opened in December bringing estate to 2 owner operated and 7 franchise sites at year end 
·   Escape Hunt owner-operated estate expanded by 46% to 19 sites (2020: 13 sites), including Watford, Kingston, Lakeside, Milton Keynes and the acquisition of the French master franchise with owner operated sites in Paris and Brussels 
·   New games successfully developed and launched at new Escape Hunt sites
·   All nine Escape Hunt sites open for more than 12 months were named by TripAdvisor™ as a Travellers’ Choice Winner in August 2021 and continued five star TripAdvisor™ ratings across the UK estate 
·   Acquisition of Middle East master franchise in Q4 2020 fully paid back within 12 months

POST YEAR END

·   In the year to date, 6 new Boom sites opened, including owner operated site in Exeter, co-located with Escape Hunt, and franchise sites in Watford, Ipswich, Glasgow, Aldgate East and Bath 
·   Further 6 Boom sites in build and 10 contracts exchanged or in final legals underpinning site roll-out targets for the year 
·   Site level economics for Boom being proven by performance at owner-operated sites
·   Boom franchise sites performing in line with the Board’s expectations
·   Escape Hunt sites performing well with UK owner operated estate and traded ahead of the Board’s expectations in Q1 2022

Richard Harpham, Chief Executive of Escape Hunt, commented:

“2021 was an important year in our journey. It marked the inflexion point at which we delivered sufficient critical mass to become profitable and was the year where we best set ourselves up to become a key player in the leisure space with the acquisition of Boom. The customer demand we have seen since Covid restrictions were lifted has been overwhelmingly positive and has reinforced our belief that businesses like ours serve an important role in bringing people together. With the Escape Room category becoming much more a part of the mainstream consumer psyche, and with competitive socialising being such a fast growing sub-sector within the leisure market, we feel that XP Factory is perfectly positioned through its operating brands Escape Hunt and Boom respectively.

With such a well-developed pipeline of sites, such encouraging demonstrable unit economics in both brands, and such a well-positioned business in terms of customer demand, we have reason to be highly optimistic about the future for XP Factory.”

STRATEGIC REPORT

Chairman’s Statement

Positioned for success

2021 was a transformative year with two very different halves for XP Factory Plc, and one which saw us exit the year better positioned than ever before to capitalise on the fast growing market for experiential leisure. We achieved a significant milestone as for the first time, the business delivered positive EBITDA in the 6 months to 31 December 2021, with Escape Hunt breaking multiple weekly sales records.  Combined with the acquisition of Boom Battle Bar in November 2021, a very healthy pipeline of sites and a significantly strengthened balance sheet, this leaves us poised for significant growth and cause for optimism about the future.

Escape Hunt

Entering 2021 in national lockdown, with our venues closed and our operating teams largely on furlough, the first half of the year was very challenging for businesses in our sector. However, we never wavered from our core belief that as social beings, we crave togetherness and interaction, and the Board focused its efforts on best preparing the business to be able to deliver the safe and enjoyable experiences that our customers had been missing for so many months, once restrictions were lifted. As customers returned to the venues, I was delighted to see sales exceeding the Board’s expectations, but was also extremely proud of our teams who worked tirelessly to deliver exceptional service despite the difficult conditions. The performance within Escape Hunt continued into 2022, with Q1 being ahead of expectations.

The mental wellbeing of our teams was at the forefront of our minds throughout the periods when they were on furlough, and we made sure to maintain very regular contact and keep them engaged with the business. Our extensive re-training once restrictions were lifted allowed our staff to feel comfortable on their return, and we have been happy with how natural the transition back to work  has been.

In preparation for reopening our venues, we invested further in the software platform used in sites to deliver the Escape Hunt experiences, and began to see the benefits of increased operating leverage and efficiency as customers returned. When we first launched the business in 2017, we required one games master for every game that was running, whereas today, one games master can operate up to 3 games simultaneously. This software, combined with the modular design of our games rooms which we now install in sites, has dramatically simplified the build process at new sites, and our new units opened in Milton Keynes, Watford, Kingston and Lakeside bear testament to this.

The second half of the year exceeded even our own expectations, as the business was well placed to exploit pent up customer demand and trading in sites was hugely encouraging. The investment we made in growing our estate substantially throughout 2020 allowed us to deliver group profitability over the 6 months to 31 December 2021, and we were delighted to see substantial growth in the mature sites, as well as stellar performances in the new venues, where sales were ramping up faster than we had seen before.

It was also good to see our investment in innovation being rewarded with a £2.6m R&D grant from HMRC (net of fees), and this, when combined with the underlying trading from sites, contributed to a year which delivered £2.7m Adjusted EBITDA, despite being closed for the majority of the first 6 months.

Acquisitions

We remain grateful to those of our investors who stood by and supported us when COVID presented an existential threat to our industry, and particularly we thank them for supporting the raise of £1.4m (before expenses) in January 2021, which allowed us to buy back our Escape Hunt French and Belgian master franchise and provided us with further working capital. This acquisition is proving fruitful for the business, with the existing sites returning to their pre-COVID levels of demand, and with avenues for future growth being explored. As with the acquisition of the Dubai franchise last year, the return on capital is expected to be very strong, and in both cases, we have gained an engaged and talented team to further develop their respective territories.

In November 2021, we completed our acquisition of Boom Battle Bar – a competitive socialising business showcasing a selection of games alongside a menu of cocktails and street food. Supported again by our shareholders, we raised £16.1m (net of expenses) to complete the purchase and to provide capital for the planned growth of the estate, and have positioned ourselves to become the fastest growing leisure business in the UK. With our current pipeline of over 40 potential sites in development, we anticipate having 27 venues trading by the end of 2022, spread across franchise and owned units.  We believe that this footprint will enable us to become a pre-eminent player in the industry.

The acquisition of Boom is a good strategic fit alongside Escape Hunt, as the core customer is in common across both brands, and the experience we have developed in hosting games in Escape Hunt transfers to the hosting of games at Boom. The addition of F&B at Boom is new to the business, but many of our existing management team have their backgrounds in this area. The opportunity to exploit a property market which has been at its lowest point in a generation has enabled us to secure an enviable pipeline of sites, at materially lower rents than would have been achievable previously, and this, combined with the capital contributions on offer, should allow us to make very strong returns on the capital we employ.

The Board

I would like to thank my Board for their unwavering confidence, and for their belief that despite the difficult conditions born of COVID, the business could nevertheless emerge larger, stronger and better positioned if targeted investment was deployed in the right areas. 

Outlook

2021 represented an inflexion point for XP Factory. Demonstrating that the Escape Hunt estate had scale enough to deliver group profitability marked a significant milestone for the business, and combined with the acquisition of Boom, I am excited about the future. The management team has already made huge strides towards the integration of Boom into XP Factory, and have opened an additional 8 sites since its acquisition. There will no doubt be challenges to be faced with increasing uncertainty from the current macro-economic environment, inflation and cost pressures and, as a young business, opening so many sites in a short period of time. However, by the end of 2022, we will have built a substantial network across our two brands and with Escape Hunt continuing to grow whilst delivering outstanding customer experiences, the two brands together form a wonderful foundation for exciting times to come.

Richard Rose

Chairman

31 May 2022

Chief Executive’s Report

Last year, in my statement I wrote that despite the unprecedented challenges of 2020, we chose as a Board to invest heavily in growing our estate in order that we might emerge from COVID with a critical mass capable of supporting our cost base, and with a company poised for exceptional growth. The performance in 2021 validated that strategic decision and, although H1 2021 was materially affected by lockdown restrictions, I am delighted to highlight below some key performance metrics for the full year:

·   163% increase in Group revenue to £7.0m (2020: £2.7m)
·   Pre-IFRS 16 Adjusted Group EBITDA (before R&D credits) of £480k in the six months to 31 December 2021 (2020: loss of £890k)
·   £63k Adjusted EBITDA (before R&D credits) for the year to 31 December 2021 (2020: loss of £1.4m)
·   Including R&D credits received (£2.6m, net of costs), Adjusted Group EBITDA was £2.7m for the year to 31 December 2021 (2020: loss of £1.4m)
·   Group operating loss for the year to 31 December 2021 of £0.5m (2020: loss of £6.4m)

We were delighted that trading in the second half of the year exceeded our expectations, and that we were able to offer our customers experiences that brought them together to make memories after so many months of social lent. Our teams worked tirelessly to create safe but fun environments and delivered outstanding customer service despite the challenges. The Escape Hunt owner-operated footprint increased by 46% in the year (from 13 sites in 2020 to 19 in 2021), and this, combined with improved operational efficiency across all sites, allowed us to capitalise on pent-up demand. The resulting performance that delivered a profitable H2 at Group level represents a key milestone in our journey and serves as the foundation from which we expect to grow rapidly over the coming months.

In November 2021, we completed the acquisition of Boom Battle Bar, for which we successfully raised £16.1m after expenses, via an equity placing and open offer. Combining a portfolio of games with cocktails and street food, Boom is the fastest growing competitive socialising brand, and its pipeline of 39 sites at 31 December 2021 came with the prospect £12.6m of landlord capital contributions to assist with build costs. Post-acquisition, we opened an owner-operated site at the prestigious O2 Arena, and a further franchised site in Coventry, bringing the total to 2 owned sites and 7 franchises by the year end. The return on capital for Boom is expected to be extremely strong, and the aggressive roll out plan will see the Group fast become one of the pre-eminent leisure operators in the UK.

With an additional brand in our mix, following completion of the acquisition of Boom, we made the decision to rename the Company XP Factory Plc, although the trading businesses will continue to operate under Escape Hunt and Boom Battle Bar respectively.

Escape Hunt

Over the year, we bolstered our Escape Hunt owner-operated footprint with openings in Watford, Kingston, Milton Keynes and Lakeside, and also bought back our sites in Paris and Brussels, which were previously operated by our French master franchisee. Across the board, we were delighted by the pace at which customers returned to our venues after COVID restrictions began to lift, and our sites delivered performances that exceeded both our expectations, and also the comparable run-rates from 2019. In the 6 months to 31 December 2021, owner-operated revenues exceeded £5m and were more than 130% ahead of the same period in 2019, driven in part by the new sites growing much faster than their expected maturity curves, but also by strong like-for-like sales growth in the mature venues. Operational leverage has continued to improve, and site level EBITDA for the same period exceeded £3m.

Our team members continued to delight customers and the 5 star ratings in all sites were maintained across TripAdvisorTM. Moreover, each eligible site received a TripAdvisorTM Traveller’s Choice award, which showcase the top 10% of leisure venues globally. Post COVID, with recruitment of staff being harder than previously, we have maintained our focus on retention, and were pleased to make our 100th internal promotion in the year. The energy and passion with which our teams have returned to the business since furlough has been humbling, and it is this attitude which underpins our culture.

The modular games rooms have continued to evolve, and Milton Keynes was the first site to be built in an entirely modular fashion – a blueprint now being followed in successive builds. This production methodology has significantly simplified the process and time to open and allows for whole rooms to be moved. A good example of this would be in Riyadh, where we were paid to exhibit at the global leisure expo held there, and our modular rooms were enjoyed for 3 months before being taken down and shipped for installation elsewhere in the estate.

The shape of the franchise estate changed through the year, partly because we bought back the French business, but also because some of the smaller, more marginal sites were unable to survive the pandemic, notably if located within territories that offered little to no financial support. Whilst the net effect was to see the estate reduced from 35 sites at the end of 2020, to 27 in 2021, our economics have not been materially affected, as the key regions have continued to perform well. With progress significantly slowed in the US due to the restrictions, it is pleasing to see the site in Houston now showcasing the best of Escape Hunt with its new games room installed, and record weeks are being set on a regular basis. This has established a good foundation from which our partner Proprietor’s Capital Holdings can expect to grow.

Overall, Escape Hunt’s performance across a challenging year, and in H2 particularly, gave cause for optimism about its future. We continued to demonstrate consistency in the delivery of our unit economics, which yield circa 30% EBITDA margins and strong returns on capital, and most importantly, we delivered a critical mass significant enough to yield group profitability across H2. Our opening strategy continues as set out in our November 2021 circular to shareholders and we are excited to be bringing our experiences to more customers around the country.

Boom Battle Bar

In November 2021, we completed the acquisition of Boom Battle Bar, a young business in the competitive socialising sector. With a variety of games, including axe throwing, augmented reality darts and crazier golf, Boom is anchored by street food and cocktails, and is a good complement to our Escape Hunt business. The elements of hospitality and games hosting transfer across both brands, and our ethos which brings customers together to make special memories remains. Strategically, a further benefit in Boom is that it has allowed us to exploit a timely opportunity in the property market, where large sites (greater than 10k square foot), have become available for the first time in many years, and with deals that have not previously been seen. At the point of acquisition, the business had only 7 sites trading – 1 owner-operated unit and 6 franchises – but had a property pipeline in excess of 40 sites that were well progressed. Moreover, this pipeline carried capital contributions of circa £13m to go towards fit out costs, and we recognised the opportunity to seize a sizeable position in an exciting marketplace very quickly. Indeed, we will be the fastest growing leisure business in the UK in 2022.

An advantage of Boom being small at the point of acquisition, is that we have been able to shape it in our own vision almost from the beginning. Our specific approaches to customer service and hospitality are being adopted and, whilst the operation will continue to improve over the coming months, we are very pleased with the direction of travel. Our team has been bolstered with some highly experienced hires who are helping lead the opening programme and associated training, and the overall integration has felt very natural. Where possible, we are beginning to co-locate Boom Battle Bar with Escape Hunt, such as in Exeter, Edinburgh and Oxford Street, and encouragingly we are seeing our customers enjoying both brands.

The roll out plan for Boom is aggressive, and we have stated our target of 27 sites trading by 31 December 2022. In December 2021, we opened an additional owner-operated site at the O2 Arena in London, and also a further franchise site in Coventry, bringing the total to 9 units at the year end. We imagine ending up with a ratio of approximately a third owner-operated sites to two-thirds franchised, and, within our existing network of franchisees, there is already significant appetite to do more. Whilst still early days, the sites have traded as expected, with strong operating leverage making for a high expected return on capital. Perhaps more importantly, the customer feedback so far has been very encouraging, and as we continue to hone our model. We expect to be able to deliver experiences as well rated as those which we consistently deliver at Escape Hunt.

Strategic objectives

At the time of acquiring Boom Battle Bar, we outlined a four-point strategy to build shareholder value.  These four strategic objectives remain our focus and, as set out above, we are making steady progress towards their realisation.

·     Maximise the UK footprint by rolling out each brand, either through direct investment into owner-operated sites or through franchises

We expect to co-locate a number of Escape Hunt sites with Boom Battle Bar as the estate of owner-operated sites grows.  Our short and medium term targets for the UK are as follows:

 ESCAPE HUNTBOOM BATTLE BAR
Existing sites15 UK sites3 owner operated, 10 franchise
Target: 31 December 202221 UK owner operated7 owner operated, 20 franchise
Potential sites (long term – 5yrs+)50+100+

As set out above, our targets have not changed since those made at the time of the acquisition of Boom Battle Bar. 

·     Accelerate growth in International territories, predominantly through franchises

Whilst we believe that there is a significant opportunity for each brand internationally, the immediacy of international growth will differ for each operating brand.  For Boom, the focus will initially be the UK.  There are opportunities for expansion into territories where we own and operate Escape Hunt sites, which we are likely to explore.  More broadly, international expansion is likely to be franchise led. For Escape Hunt, our international focus is on growing our US business in partnership with our Area Representative, PCH.

·     Continue to develop new products and markets which facilitate the growth of B2B sales

We will continue to innovate and develop products that provide access to a broader range of customer markets.  Our direct sales team has been expanded and is beginning to address the corporate / business market for both Escape Hunt and Boom Battle Bar effectively.

·     Integrate the businesses, exploit the synergies where possible, and develop an infrastructure that supports scale and future growth

Whilst more inward looking, the fourth objective is a critical component for the success of our business.  I have been delighted with the progress we have made so far in embracing the cultures of the two businesses and building on the DNA and values within the XP Factory Group.  The benefits of working together to take advantage of the unprecedented property opportunity are evident.  Where we are co-located, we are now developing cross marketing initiatives to ensure that we are able to exploit the natural synergies that the businesses offer. Further work will be done over the next 12 – 24 months to upgrade and improve our systems and processes to ensure that we have a resilient infrastructure capable of supporting the growth we believe is possible.

Outlook

2021 was an important year in our journey. It marked the inflexion point at which we delivered sufficient critical mass to become profitable and was the year where we best set ourselves up to become a key player in the leisure space with the acquisition of Boom. The customer demand we have seen since Covid restrictions were lifted has been overwhelmingly positive and has reinforced our belief that businesses like ours serve an important role in bringing people together. With the Escape Room category becoming much more a part of the mainstream consumer psyche, and with competitive socialising being such a fast growing sub-sector within the leisure market, we feel that XP Factory is perfectly positioned through its operating brands Escape Hunt and Boom respectively.

With such a well-developed pipeline of sites, such encouraging demonstrable unit economics in both brands, and such a well-positioned business in terms of customer demand, we have reason to be highly optimistic about the future for XP Factory.

Richard Harpham

Chief Executive Officer

31 May 2022

The XP Factory Group is one of the UK’s pre-eminent experiential leisure businesses which currently operates two fast growing leisure brands.  Escape Hunt is a global leader in providing escape-the-room experiences delivered through a network of owner-operated sites in the UK, an international network of franchised outlets in five continents, and through digitally delivered games which can be played remotely. 

Boom Battle Bar is a fast-growing network of owner-operated and franchise sites in the UK that combine competitive socialising activities with themed cocktails, drinks and street food in a high energy, fun setting.  Activities include a range of games such as augmented reality darts, Bavarian axe throwing, ‘crazier golf’, shuffleboard and others.  The Group’s products enjoy premium customer ratings and cater for leisure or teambuilding, in small groups or large, and are suitable for consumers, businesses and other organisations. The Company has a strategy to expand the network in the UK and internationally, creating high quality games and experiences delivered through multiple formats and which can incorporate branded IP content.

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