The garden centre that employs around 190 staff near Morpeth, Northumberland was sold last week by the Lishman family for an undisclosed sum following an approach by the industry consolidator that now owns more than 120 sites across the country.
L to R: David Lishman & Shelia Lishman (former owners, Heighley Gate), Chris Welch (Sintons), Shawn Bone (BTG McInnes) and Ian Simpson (Heighley Gate)
The sale represents the end of an era for the family who established the garden centre in 1963, but Shawn Bone of BTG McInnes explains the deal gives the business a new lease of life.
“The Heighley Gate deal came as consolidation and investment in the sector has reached a new peak. I would expect the industry’s biggest players, Wyevale and Dobbies, to take garden retailing to a whole new level with massive investment.”
“The huge sums of money behind the big players has come as large corporates such as Tesco and big private equity players, notably Sir Tom Hunter’s West Coast Capital fund have become very interested in the sector through their ownership of Dobbies and Wyevale. Now the best independents like Heighley Gate risk being left behind in investment terms, unless they can become part of the revolution in this retailing sector.”
The £9m turnover Heighley Gate business attracted around 1 million visitors to its 40-acre site last year, and in Autumn 2007 the centre was awarded Garden Centre of Excellence status for the fifth year running.
Shawn Bone added: “I would expect further consolidation in the sector. Owners are beginning to appreciate, just like the Lishmans, that selling is actually consistent with development of their businesses and provides more opportunity for their staff and customers alike.
“The family understood that Heighley Gate needed to be taken to the next level and in many ways Wyevale, given its scale, access to capital and experience of garden centre development was the natural buyer. Given Wyevales plans for its own business and now Heighley Gate, the deal should be very much in the interests of staff and customers.”
Heighley Gate has been developed over the past into more than just a garden centre, with a restaurant, coffee bar, food hall, gift and furniture departments and play areas making it a ‘retail attraction’.
Founder David Lishman said: “We see this as an ideal opportunity to ensure the continued success and further development of Heighley Gate in an increasingly competitive market.
“The business was never put on the market for sale but after a number of approaches by Wyevale it was decided that the timing was right. There are huge changes taking place within the industry and as a family we have invested significantly in recent years. Further heavy investment is now required to meet the competitive challenges within the sector.”
The founders David and Sheila Lishman are to retire. Mick Lishman will remain as head of the nursery whilst Chris Lishman and Fiona Emmerson will be employed for up to three months to assist in the handover to Wyevale.
Other advisers to the vendors included Sintons law firm and accountants Stokoe Rodger.
Alan Dawson, partner at Sintons Solicitors LLP, said: “Sintons have been advising two generations of the Lishman family for more than quarter of a century, and to see Heighley Gate develop so well over the years has been tremendously satisfying.
“Very often, we’ve discussed issues sitting around their farmhouse table well into the evening. I admire the huge amount of hard work and financial investment they have put in.”
Julie is a law graduate who qualified with Price Waterhouse in 1994. Julie joined Smith & Williamson in 1997 and became a partner in 2001. With Mike Stevenson, Julie set up Middleton Partners offices in Salisbury and Southampton, both of which are now part of Begbies Traynor.
Julie is a member of the Insolvency Practitioners Association and is a Fellow of The Association of Business Recovery Professionals. Julie deals with all aspects of Corporate Recovery and turnaround work and takes all form of personal insolvency appointments.