Focus Wickes up for sale at £1.5bn

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The Independent Online

Focus Wickes, the DIY giant, has put itself up for sale, with a price tag of £1.5bn.

Focus Wickes, the DIY giant, has put itself up for sale, with a price tag of £1.5bn.

The deal would mean a bumper pay day for its founder and chairman, Bill Archer, who has a 12 per cent stake. He has already made £75m from selling part of his holding.

The private equity groups Duke Street, which backed Mr Archer some 13 years ago, and Apax Partners, which bought in more recently, own about 70 per cent of Focus Wickes.

Goldman Sachs, which is now advising the company on divestment options, tried and failed to float the business for £1.1bn in the summer of 2002 but was defeated by volatile market conditions.

A sale, a refinancing or another attempt at listing are all being examined. It is thought that, although a transaction could be pulled off quite speedily, there is nothing imminent as things stand. Focus Wickes declined to comment.

Mr Archer started the company in 1987 with six DIY stores, buying Focus soon afterwards. In recent years, the group has grown by acquiring three more chains: Do It All, from Boots in 1998, and in 2000 Wickes for £325m and Great Mills for £285m. With annual turnover last year of £1.3bn, Focus Wickes has a 420-strong chain but that still puts it behind B&Q, owned by Kingfisher.

Potential buyers could include GUS, the owner of its rival Homebase, or the US group Home Depot, which has been looking to enter the UK market. A financial buyer may also be interested.

With cheap financing available from the debt markets, a refinancing could, instead, release capital for the shareholders of Focus Wickes. Duke Street's investment in the group has been over an unusually long period for a private equity group.

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