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Johnson takes Risk with gardening retailer Primrose

Written by on 03/12/2020

One of the country’s most prominent entrepreneurs is placing a bet on green-fingered Britons by buying a major online gardening products retailer.

Sky News understands that Risk Capital Partners, which is headed by Luke Johnson, has agreed the purchase of Primrose.co.uk.

Sources said the deal had been structured involving a pre-pack administration of Primrose’s parent company, with its operating subsidiary sold as a going concern.

The deal is Mr Johnson’s first since buying the tenpin bowling group All Star Lanes, which like much of Risk’s consumer-focused portfolio has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Primrose has 20 million registered customers in the UK and Europe.

The company was launched in 2003 from a base in Reading, Berkshire, and sold a majority stake to Rockpool Investments, a private equity firm, in 2018.

Sales are understood to have surged this year with garden centres forced to close for large chunks of the pandemic.

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Image: Online garden centres are among those to have witnessed strong demand during the pandemic. File pic

The reason why an insolvency process became necessary – against that backdrop of improved sales – was unclear on Thursday.

Sources said the pre-pack had been undertaken by FRP Advisory after Cavendish Corporate Finance was appointed during the summer to run a sale process for Primrose.

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson’s firm sold the swimwear brand Zoggs, while Risk Capital is also an investor in businesses such as the parent company of Gail’s, the chain of bakeries.

Mr Johnson, a former chairman of Channel 4 and current columnist for The Sunday Times, has been resuming his investment activity since being rocked by a massive fraud at Patisserie Valerie’s parent company last year.

“The Board of Directors of Meika Ltd, trading as Primrose, is pleased to confirm that…the company was acquired by Risk Capital Partners.

“The acquisition was completed via a solvent share sale and Primrose will continue to trade as normal.

“Following this transaction there is no external bank debt within the new group structure,” the company said.

It added that the deal would bring new investment, “which will enable it to further capitalise on the significant growth the company is experiencing at present, following the launch of its new plant and garden product categories and the general growth in online sales”.

Mr Johnson said: “We are very pleased to back the Primrose management to take advantage of the significant opportunities in online sales in the gardening sector.

“The business is well positioned to play an active part in the consolidation of a fragmented sector.”

 Sky News

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