Kirkham to raise pounds 60m in share sale

Former high-street salesman reaps handsome reward for his one- man furniture venture

Graham Kirkham, the son of a Yorkshire miner who left school at 16 with no O levels, is to raise pounds 60m by selling one-third of his 52 per cent stake in DFS Furniture, the three-piece-suite retailer he founded 26 years ago.

Mr Kirkham said the share sale came in response to repeated phone calls from institutions anxious to buy shares in what is a very tight market. Ever jokey and amiable, he admitted, that his motives were not completely altruistic - he wouldn't be sorry to accept the money.

The proceeds of the share sale will bolster the pounds 130m he took away from DFS's 1993 flotation, when he sold 48 per cent of the family-owned business. Even after the disposal, Mr Kirkham will retain a stake of about 35 per cent in the furniture retailer, worth more than pounds 100m at yesterday's closing price of 345p.

News of the share sale accompanied strong full-year profit figures for the 12 months to July and a special 10p dividend to shareholders to reduce the company's fast growing cash pile. Pre-tax profits jumped 23 per cent to pounds 26.23m despite flagging consumer demand and a moribund housing market, normally a prerequisite for growing sales of household goods.

Even before the special payout, the underlying dividend growth was a healthy 15 per cent from 7.2p a share to 8.3p.

A keen collector, Mr Kirkham agreed the art market would welcome his decision to release another slice of his considerable wealth. He remains resolutely unimpressed by money, keeping a substantial art and antiques collection in a beautiful Georgian mansion, Cantley Hall, where he occasionally entertains, but chooses to live in an unassuming four-bedroom modern house a few miles away.

Mr Kirkham remained tight-lipped about his plans for the pounds 60m, but he dismissed suggestions that he would dilute his interest in DFS by sinking the money into yachts or football clubs - "DFS is not a job, it's a way of life" - and laughed off suggestions that he would repeat a recent multi- million pound loan to the Tory party.

After a year during which the company paused for breath, opening just one new outlet at the end of the financial period, DFS also announced an ambitious expansion programme and a move out of its Midlands and Northern heartland into southern England.

Six new openings are planned both this year and next and a target of 100 shops compares with 32 now. Despite the growth plans analysts believed more special dividends were likely in future years as the company continued to throw off more cash than it could spend opening new shops.

Mr Kirkham's proposed share sale is the latest reward for the former salesman at Hardys, a high-street furniture chain that became part of Harris Queensway. Impatient with working for someone else, he struck out in 1969 and set up DFS. The model of vertical integration, DFS made its own furniture upstairs, bringing it down to the showroom. Mr Kirkham was delivery man, salesman and accountant; he even cut the material.

Investment column, page 24

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