Blacks fields potential buyers

Marion Dakers
CAMPING and hiking retailer Blacks Leisure yesterday confirmed it has received several approaches to take over all or parts of its business.

Shares in the company rose 25 per cent to 42.50p following the news that Blacks has taken on financial advisers McQueen to help field potential offers. The share price gives the company a market capitalisation of around £35m.

Blacks did not reveal the number or names of the potential biders, and added in a statement: “There is no certainty that any formal offers will be forthcoming or as to the terms on which any such offer might be made.”

Blacks declined to comment further yesterday.

A spokesperson for Lion Capital, a private equity group that made an offer for the retailer in 2009, declined to comment on whether it was one of the parties involved. Lion already owns the Cotswold Outdoor retail chain.

Blacks, which runs the Blacks Outdoor and Milletts chains, came close to administration last year before striking a rescue deal with creditors that saw it close over 100 stores. It raised £20m in May to accelerate turnaround plans, after reporting an annual pre-tax loss of £47m. Plans include refurbishing stores and opening 35 new ones on more favourable terms.

The fundraising was opposed by shareholder Sports Direct International, which considered a bid for Blacks before walking away.

Sport Direct, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, still owns a stake of around 14 per cent in Blacks, but was unavailable for comment yesterday on whether it is in the running to bid this time.



Blacks has appointed McQueen, a financial advisory firm with a focus on consumer M&A, debt issues and strategy. The team is led by financial veteran Clive Baker, who spent 19 years building up the private equity business at corporate finance house Hawkpoint before leaving in 2002 to co-found McQueen.

The company was named after the Great Escape actor Steve McQueen while in the planning stages, as four directors and six junior bankers worked to set up the firm. The team of advisers has now grown to 17.

McQueen is currently advising BWin for its ongoing €2.5bn merger with Party Gaming. It also advised Bay Restaurant Group on its £19.5m sale of ha ha bar & grill to leisure giant Mitchells and Butlers in September.

The McQueen name is linked to a number of high-profile names in retail, from grocer Waitrose, which bought several supermarkets from its client Sandpiper, through to luxury shoe-maker Kurt Geiger, which was sold to Graphite Capital by Barclays Private Equity for £95m in 2008.

Baker himself is also something of a high-flyer, having taken part in the sale of big stakes in Birmingham and Luton Airports by Bridgepoint and Barclays Private Equity respectively during his time at Hawkpoint.