Woof! Newshound here…back and straining at the leash. So what’s cooking? The boss says people who’ve have had their ears to the walls at Wyevale GCs HQ reckon there’s something interesting about to break.
Well, I know and you know there’s always something interesting going on down there but given that the walls at Fortress Wyevale are notoriously sound-proof, news doesn’t often leak out, does it…yet, what if there’s a mole…?
Anyway, let’s rewind for a mo. It’s more than five years now since Terra Firma bought the 126-centre Wyevale chain for £276m. At the time, the group (then trading as The Garden Centre Group) was being run by Nicholas Marshall. Six months later, Marshall resigned after four years as chief executive. He will have got to know Terra Firma’s chairman, Guy Hands, during the run-up to the acquisition.
Fast forward to 2016: Terra Firma joins the bidding as Tesco puts the rival 34-store Dobbies chain up for auction…but loses out to Midlothian Capital Partners/Hattington Capital. Had it been successful, Wyevale would have had enough critical mass to excite the wider investment market, possibly even with a flotation.
Eight months later, Dobbies recruits Marshall as chief executive. Within weeks, Marshall brings a string of trusted former Wyevale colleagues who had been ousted in Terra Firma’s purge into the Dobbies fold in key positions. So the team that knew the Wyevale group inside out is now running Dobbies. Interesting, no? Some of them will have friends who still work on the inside at Wyevale…
Meanwhile, Wyevale Garden Centres is having a torrid time, forced to negotiate £100m of re-financing following losses of £122m reported in its 2016 accounts.
From now on, we are told, Wyevale Garden Centres, under its new-look leadership team headed by Roger Mclaughlan, will adopt a new strategy…dedicating more time to serving and advising customers. Like successful independents do, then? “We need to make the company more customer focused than it has historically been,” Mclaughlan is reported as having said.
So these are surely clear signals that a re-structured, re-focused and re-financed WGC is being groomed for the market – and it’s fair to assume that Terra Firma will not want to wait too long to get the business off its Hands once the financials improve.
Hence the ears to the walls at WGC HQ as we wait for the For Sale sign to go up.
Dobbies’ backers will be aware of this. Could they be tempted to make a move on WGC, a business of which Marshall and his team have a uniquely intimate knowledge?
It would create a group with full national reach from Cornwall to Invernesshire, capitalisation to attract further investment – and a management that currently appears committed to retaining plants and gardening as its primary raison d’etre.
At the age of 67, Nicholas Marshall could well be up for one more special ‘David and Goliath’ challenge.