Benjys takes a step closer to stock market

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The Independent Online

Benjys, the fast expanding sandwich shop chain, yesterday signalled its intention to pursue a possible float or sale of the business by beginning the search for a finance director.

Benjys, the fast expanding sandwich shop chain, yesterday signalled its intention to pursue a possible float or sale of the business by beginning the search for a finance director.

The 64-strong chain of outlets, which is seeking to double in size over the next two years, said it was looking for someone who could work closely with Ian Rickwood, the chief executive, to prepare for a "possible exit".

A stock market float would make Mr Rickwood a sandwich millionaire because management owns 35 per cent of the business.

A recruitment advertisement which appeared in the Financial Times yesterday also said the candidate should have experience in dealing with financial institutions. The company said: "We are currently recruiting for a finance director with preferred experience in the retail/manufacturing industry. We are looking for someone who has experience in dealing with financial institutions, who can add independent value at board level and has the ability to assist the CEO in preparation for a possible exit."

Paul Fray, the company's chief operating officer, said: "Given the expansion of the business we want a full-time finance director with the right skill base. We want to keep all our options open."

Benjys has a turnover of about £40m and its main backer, ECI Ventures, which owns 65 per cent, is thought to have been mulling a sale of the business for the past few months. A firm of City advisers will also be sought. In the current strong climate of initial public offerings, Benjys is likely to be valued at between £60m and £90m.

The chain was the subject of a buyout in August 2000 when Mr Rickwood bought the business from its founder Paul Benjamin and his family. At the time the company had a turnover of £25m. Under Mr Rickwood, the company has expanded rapidly, upgrading its outlets. It is now seeking to open 100 new stores and is setting up 700 van delivery franchises.

In October 2002, the company came close to buying Coffee Republic for about £8m in a move to consolidate the highly competitive coffee and sandwich sector. However, it was ultimately defeated. In January 2003, it secured a £12m refinancing to provide it with greater firepower for acquisitions and expansion.

Benjys has opened shops outside London with expansion plans centred on Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Reading and Slough.

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