Silverfleet eyes Hunter’s Office chain

 
Marion Dakers
HIGH STREET shoe retailer Office is likely to be bought by Silverfleet Capital after the private equity firm entered exclusive talks with current owner Sir Tom Hunter, a source close to the deal said yesterday.

The exclusivity agreement all but scuppers the chances of Blackstone and PAI Capital, who had pursued Office since Sir Tom’s company West Coast Capital hired corporate advisers Hawkpoint and Financo in June to examine the options for the firm.

Sir Tom is said to be looking for bids of up to £200m for the chain of around 120 outlets in the UK and Ireland. West Coast, used by the Scottish entrepreneur as a buyout vehicle, acquired Office for £15.5m in 2003, when the brand had fewer than 25 branches.

Office – which is one of the most profitable parts of West Coast – posted underlying earnings of £18.6m for the year to the end of January 2010, on sales of £135.7m.
Silverfleet Capital also owns TJ Hughes, the discount furniture and clothing retailer, following a £56m management buyout deal in 2003.

The private equity group axed plans to sell the retailer earlier this month, leading to the departure of TJ Hughes chief executive Sue Tennant.

Silverfleet’s diverse portfolio also includes Schneider Group, an online retailer, artificial sausage casings maker Kalle and Orizon, a temporary staffing agency.
Earlier this year, it sold its stake in French jeweller Histoire D’Or.

West Coast and Silverfleet declined to comment, while Blackstone and PAI did not return calls yesterday.

When the business was first put on the market in the summer, Office chief executive Brian McCluskey said: “West Coast has held the business for seven years now, so this is timeous in the lifecycle of private equity, particularly given we have received several unsolicited approaches for the business.”

West Coast, which also owns fashion retailer USC, posted a pre-tax profit of £6.9m in the year to 31 January 2010, compared to a loss of £66,322 a year earlier.

FAST FACTS | OFFICE

● Posted earnings of £18.6m on sales of £135.7m in the year to January 2010
● Trades from 120 stores and concessions in the UK and Ireland
● Has been owned by West Coast since 2003


SIR TOM HUNTER

WEST COAST CAPITAL

Scotland’s first self-made billionaire began his career by selling trainers out of a van. He built his sportswear business into Sports Division, one of the UK’s largest clothing retailers with a market value of £250m when it was sold to JJB in 1998.

Hunter went on to set up West Coast Capital in 2001 as an investment vehicle and holding company for his £1.1bn fortune, most of which has been earmarked for charities.

He runs the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative with Bill Clinton, which was set up with £60m to fund projects in developing communities. He also set up the Hunter Foundation with his wife Marion in 1998 to fund education projects, helping to earn him a knighthood in 2005.

His philanthropic plans were scaled back during the financial crisis, when his investments in building firms helped wipe out more than half of his fortune and cost him his place as the richest man in Scotland on the Sunday Times rich list in 2008.
His investments have since recovered, and his wealth is now estimated to be back above £1bn.

Hunter was born in 1961 in Ayrshire and studied business at the University of Strathclyde, where he now sponsors the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.