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Shoes, keys and acquisitions – Timpson’s lessons in business sales

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In the uber-competitive world of UK retail, I admire high street stalwart Timpson.

Maybe it’s the curious mix of tiny shops offering a myriad of services, from key-cutting and trophy engraving to shoe repairs and phone screen repairs.

Perhaps it’s because Timpson is ‘numero uno’ in its field while remaining a family-run business. But deep down, I suppose it’s because straight-talking chairman John Timpson plays by his own rules.

John joined Timpson in 1970, but learned the ropes the hard way. In 1973, his father was ousted as chairman, and the company was sold to retail conglomerate UDS. John was made Managing Director of the Timpson division, which was acquired in turn by Hanson Trust in 1978.

In 1983, John led a management buyout to regain family control, and quickly set about selling the Timpson Shoes chain of shops to focus on footwear repairs and key-cutting. Then in 1993, Timpson made the first of seven key acquisitions to grow their share in key markets, from dry cleaning to photo processing shops, and even moving into house-name signs. Today, group turnover is £143m.

Taken together then, John clearly knows more than most about growing and selling businesses. So what’s his advice to fellow business owners thinking of selling?

According to his weekly ‘Ask John’ advice column in the Daily Telegraph, “the only figures that matter are the sum of what a buyer is willing to pay, and the minimum amount a seller will accept.”

“Every seller needs a bit of luck,” John continues. “Without a serious buyer, you can’t do a deal. But if you’re lucky, two or three businesses will be keen to acquire your business, boosting the price and promising a prosperous retirement.”

He’s right, of course. But where does the average company owner find all these buyers, and how do they keep them in the ring?

In our experience at BCMS, the way to achieving ‘maximum value’ is to search far and wide – both internationally and outside of sector. We’re used to running a business sale process like this. But understandably, not all acquirers like it.

We’ve had multinational giants walk away when they find out other buyers are in play, only to come back to the table later on when they realise a niche player in a key segment is about to be acquired by someone else.

This isn’t a game though…this is about keeping the heat on through the lifetime of the sale process. And that simple lesson is literally worth millions to our clients.

It takes resource and expertise to the best deal for your business, find out more in the brand new BCMS video here

Dave Rebbettes's picture
Posted Jun 2017
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