Plus Ça Change

‘Twas ever thus—from childhood’s hour I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay

Once upon a time, our news pages were full of stories of builders merchants selling up to national merchant chains, of companies hawking the family jewels off to the highest bidder. Its how Travis Perkins, Wolseley, Jewson and Grafton got to be the billion-pound turnover companies they are today, after all.

I remember a national managing director 15 or so years ago telling me that within the next 20 years there would only be two national merchant businesses and a handful of smaller local independent businesses – the local stores for local people, if you like.

Well, gentle reader, he was wrong. Thus far anyway. His reasoning was that the national chains would swallow up all the medium sized businesses and then each other, leaving only two, or three at a push. He failed to see that the appetite amongst national chains for spending on massive acquisitions would falter, post-recession.

Having spent the last two days at the NBG conference in Liverpool I reckon I can also say that he didn’t take into account the resilience of the independent sector or the rising strength of the buying groups either.

However, the appetite for acquisition hasn’t abated, it’s just that someone else is hungry for business growth now. Private equity businesses have, for whatever reason, decided, that the builders merchant sector is the one where they see the best return on their investment.

The money invested by Inflexion in Huws Gray and Cairngorm in not only Parkers but the businesses they are bringing under the National Timber Group. As of today, that includes Arnold Laver, the timber division of Arnold Laver Holdings Limited. The business now includes, as well as Lavers,  Thornbridge Sawmills, North Yorkshire Timber and Rembrand.

What’s next? Who’s next? We’ve all got our own ideas but at least it’s still keeping things interesting.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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