Dollars 300m tag put on Wilkinson Sword sale

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The Independent Online
WILKINSON Sword, the 200- year-old shaving products maker, has been put up for sale by a consortium of investors that includes Gillette, its main rival.

The company has passed through several hands in recent years and yesterday was formally put on the block by Eemland Holdings, a private German company, with an estimated price tag of dollars 300m ( pounds 187.5m).

Founded in Britain, Wilkinson is the second biggest razor-blade maker in Western Europe and is particularly strong in the UK and Germany, where it speaks for market shares of 15 and 30 per cent. But it is dwarfed by Gillette, which has market shares at least double those of Wilkinson worldwide.

Wilkinson, which previously owned a safety matches and lighters business, was owned at one stage by an American steel company. It was acquired in 1987 by Swedish Match, which itself was taken over a year later by Stora, the pulp and paper giant.

In 1989, Wilkinson became the subject of a leveraged buyout backed by a group of Scandinavian institutions, JP Morgan, the UK investment bank, and Gillette, which owns 22 per cent.

The lighters and matches business was sold off separately in 1990, leaving Wilkinson's present owners with the razor business.

Mike Dowdell, chairman of Wilkinson's holding company, Eemland, said that it was being sold because its present owners could not provide new funds for its expansion.

Wilkinson's bank debts are believed to amount to dollars 100m, but it needs more financial backing to build on the success of its new shaving product, Protector.

The company said that the product's launch has enabled it to win significant market share from rivals. With demand running well ahead of production capacity, it needed to expand operations in factories in both Germany and the UK.

The disposal is expected to generate worldwide interest from potential buyers because of Wilkinson's brand appeal and technical know-how. This is the first time the razor business has been offered on its own and could attract a range of consumer products giants - from Reckitt & Colman to rivals such as Schick and Bic.

Despite its current shareholding, Gillette is unlikely to bid as it would probably run into monopoly problems. Operating profits last year were almost unchanged at DM47m ( pounds 19.7m) on sales of about DM316m.

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