Struggling Unwins puts itself up for auction

Unwins, the 161-year-old family-owned off-licence chain, yesterday put itself up for sale after admitting it needed outside investment to improve its trading prospects.

The Kent-based company, which has 388 shops, has been struggling against a slump in profits and under-investment over the past few years. Fifteen months ago it hired its first non-family member on to the board. Michael Lunn came in as chairman and has spearheaded a recovery in the business that helped it to break even in the year to the end of February.

However, a full scale review of the business has concluded that a "sale of Unwins may be attractive". Other options, such as seeking a large investment from a party that would become a minority shareholder, or a private equity deal, are being considered. The business's freehold property estate was recently valued at £27m.

Mr Lunn said that "in a company that is now being run by the fourth generation of a family, the business has only been looking at the world from an Unwins point of view and has not had an outside perspective. It has not been as disciplined on costs as it should have been and has suffered from a lack of investment."

Unwins was founded in 1843. In 1921 Michael Wetz bought the business though his wine and spirit merchant Phillips Newman. Unwins now has 84 shareholders, all of whom are descendants of Mr Wetz.

Unwins generated sales of £178m over the past year. It also has a drinks wholesale business that is responsible for turnover of around £30m.

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