Bouquets and brickbats as Interflora rebel backs 3i deal

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The Independent Online

The group of rebel florists trying to block plans to sell the Interflora network to 3i suffered a major setback when one of its founding members decided to back the bid.

Tony Michael, who jointly set up the Interflora Stakeholders Association (ISA), wrote to 1,900 members last week urging them to vote in favour of the private equity group's £23.2m offer.

Mr Michael, a wholesaler and retailer, believes that 3i's offer now represents the best way to safeguard the florists against the growing power of the supermarkets.

In the letter to members, Mr Michael says: "If you want Interflora to move forward, stop wishing for the perfect deal - it doesn't exist. This deal does exist and it's the best chance of fighting back."

He said that the ISA members had become "too political" and had "lost sight of the facts".

Mr Michael's defection comes at a crucial time for Interflora. Around 200 ISA members are expected to meet in Coventry today to rally support ahead of the ballot on 23 January.

3i needs a "yes" vote from 75 per cent of the members to secure 65 per cent of Interflora. If the deal goes ahead, Interflora members will receive between £5,000 and £12,000, which they can reinvest in the remaining 35 per cent of the business.

Steve Richards, the chief executive of Interflora, said that the deal would secure the future of the 80-year-old business by establishing a commercial structure to invest in a computer system and new products. "Five years ago, we had a 75 per cent market share. Today it is 27 per cent. The trade association structure is not fast moving enough."

But David Adair of the ISA said: "We have a good business plan to deal with the challenges. We don't have to sell ourselves cheaply."