Boats and buggies merger puts wind in Sunleigh sails: 'Quantum leap' deal marries dinghy maker and pushchair specialist

WIND-POWERED baby buggies could be on the cards following the reverse takeover of Maclaren Group, Britain's leading pushchair maker, by Sunleigh, owner of Laser-brand dinghies.

The deal, which will almost quadruple Sunleigh's size, marks the last stage of its transition from a loss-making engineering company to one specialising in branded consumer goods.

Alan Hancock, chief executive, said the acquisition was a quantum leap. 'Turning the group from a loss to a small profit in three years was the hard part,' he said. 'Now we are on to the expansion track.'

Sunleigh is paying pounds 19.2m for Maclaren, pounds 18m in cash and the rest in shares. The cash element is being financed by a placing and open offer to raise pounds 19.26m, at 6p a share - 2p below the price when the shares were suspended last Thursday. Existing shareholders are being offered the chance to buy one new share for each one held.

Maclaren buggies were invented 30 years ago and now account for about three in every ten pushchairs sold. The company was bought out from BET, which had acquired it as part of the Hestair purchase four years ago.

In the year to last August, Maclaren made pounds 2.3m operating profit on sales of pounds 26m. It lost pounds 13,000 in the following four months, partly because of rationalisation of the product range at Mothercare, which accounts for 38 per cent of Maclaren's sales.

Mr Hancock said the group had developed a number of new ranges for Mothercare and business was now at its highest level.

The group planned to expand Maclaren's business through exports - currently 17 per cent - and by using the brand name on other products, such as cribs and cradles, he said.

Sunleigh also owns Powakaddy, which manufactures powered golf trolleys.

The Maclaren purchase will be accompanied by a capital restructuring, which will allow Sunleigh to resume dividend payments by cancelling the deficit on distributable reserves.