Sunday showdown for Interflora rebels

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The Independent Online

Rebel Interflora florists hoping to scupper a £21.3m sale of the bouquet delivery network to 3I yesterday declared themselves "quietly confident" of victory when the deal is put to the vote tomorrow.

Rebel Interflora florists hoping to scupper a £21.3m sale of the bouquet delivery network to 3I yesterday declared themselves "quietly confident" of victory when the deal is put to the vote tomorrow.

Hundreds of the association's 1,850 members are expected to convene at the Hilton Metropole Hotel, in Birmingham. If more than 75 per cent of those voting back the deal then control of Interflora will pass from its member florists to an outsider for the first time in the trade body's 80-year history.

David Adair, who is heading the rebel Interflora Stakeholders Association (ISA), said: "We don't want to count our chickens but we are quietly confident that they're not going to get the votes they need."

His optimism was buoyed by the Interflora board's unwillingness to disclose how the proxies had been voted. "The interesting thing is they have had the chance on two occasions to publish the figures and they haven't done so," Mr Adair said. "We are getting a lot of calls from people going on Sunday who are going to vote no."

An Interflora spokesman said the outcome was hard to predict, but added: "Research has shown a clear majority is in favour of incorporation and I'd be surprised if anything has changed." Steve Richards, Interflora's chief executive, has mounted an 11th-hour campaign to persuade florists to back the sale, visiting members around the country. He is understood to have told Interflora members he will resign if the deal does not go through. Mr Richards believes Interflora is doomed unless it abandons its existing not-for-profit structure, which prevents it from borrowing any money. He thinks the members' "politics" are holding back the body and preventing it from competing with growing competition from the likes of Tesco, Next and Asda.

But the ISA, which claims to represent hundreds of rebels, wants florists to retain ownership of the association. Its alternative is for Interflora members to set up a trading entity within the association itself that could raise fresh funds.

If the sale goes ahead, Interflora's directors will get a 16 per cent stake in the business for just more than £200,000. 3I will control half the new company, leaving just 35 per cent in the hands of florists should they opt to reinvest their windfall in the business. Depending on how long florists have owned their shops and how much business they generate, florists stand to receive between £5,000 and £12,000 for their stakes.

Alex Lyons, who runs Loughton Nursery, in Loughton, Essex is voting against the sale. "They need to get a high majority and I think it won't go through," she said yesterday. Like many of those against the deal, she is worried that life will change for the worse if 3I takes over. She fears that 3I will increase membership fees and commissions on each order.

Others planning to vote against the sale are worried that 3I could force them to adopt a corporate image - at their own cost - or that the private equity group could set up another flower delivery network in competition with Interflora. "Why are they trying to sell us off? Why should we give up control?" Mr Adair said.

The last time Interflora's directors attempted to meddle with the status quo, eight years ago, the board was ousted after a bitter grassroots revolt.

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