Addis family finally sees the Wisdom of selling out

The Addis family, the business dynasty that invented the toothbrush and gave its name to the ubiquitous pedal bin, has cashed up.

Wisdom Toothbrushes, which was launched by the Addis's during the last war and grew to become Britain's leading toothbrush manufacturer, was yesterday sold to a management buy-out team for a little under pounds 15m.

The sale follows a pounds 20m management buy-out earlier this year of Addis Housewares and marks the virtual end of a relationship between the family and everyday domestic utensils going back 200 years.

William Addis is credited with inventing the toothbrush in 1780. For 160 years they were made from pig's bristles and wood but in 1940 the Addis's invested in plastic injection moulding equipment and the modern toothbrush was born. Pan scrubbers, plastic vegetable racks and, of course, the washing up bowl soon followed.

The new keeper of the Addis tradition is Brian McMullen, chief executive of Wisdom since 1994, who has bought the company with three other directors and the venture capital group 3i.

Based in Haverhill, Suffolk, Wisdom makes 50 million toothbrushes a year, including Britain's best-seller the Wisdom Regular, and accounts for 15 per cent of the market. About a third of production is exported - its biggest overseas market being the US where dentists give away a toothbrush with every visit.

Mr McMullen will have a controlling 51 per cent stake in the new company and says he has made a "sizeable investment" in the business. The other members of the buy-out team are manufacturing director Mike Rudge, marketing director Janice Collins and financial director Julian Edge-Partington.

"Toothbrushes are basically non-cyclical and recession proof but people do not change them as often as the they are supposed to," laments Mr McMullen. "The denists' recommendation is that they should be changed every three months. In Japan they buy a new one every two months but here it is every nine or ten months."

The Addis name has not died altogether - Oliver Addis will continue to run Addis Australia. There is also the Addis Smokers toothbrush - but it is fast becoming a collectors' item.

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