Rescued Bullers prepares to buy

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The Independent Online
WAR is about to break out in the delicate world of enamel boxes and figurines. David Cunningham, chairman of Bullers for the past year, has rescued the company from the brink of receivership and said last week that it was in shape to think about a cquisitions. An obvious early target is fellow knick-knack maker Bilston & Battersea Enamels.

Like the bits and bobs they turn out, both businesses are in the miniature class. Bullers, where Jim Slater, friends and relatives own nearly 10 per cent, is worth £11m while Bilston is priced at £3.1m.

But Mr Cunningham, a Scottish tax barrister with a stint in the Stock Exchange quotations department on his CV, said: "As the leading firms in the industry, we would make a very good fit if a deal can be worked out."

That may be easier said than done. The Bilston board and friends, led by the Apricot Computer founder, Roger Foster, hold a controlling stake.

A further complication is an agreement with Susan Benjamin, owners of two London shops called Halcyon Days. Until 2000 Ms Benjamin has the right to sell designs to Bilston, who have worldwide sales rights over products made from those designs. Bilston isheading for a profit this year, after two years of losses.

Mr Foster declined to discuss the position, but Mr Cunningham is confident he can sort out the double tangle. Meanwhile, he is busily expanding output at Bullers by launching new product lines. A move into football figures in club colours may be the springboard for a sporting portfolio taking in cricketers, rugby players, racehorses and golfers. Mr Cunningham is also looking at marketing the "English look" in the United States and Japan.

Last spring he made an opportunist acquisition of Wiseman's, a London TV and video editing company. While this is profitable, it eats capital and has no synergy with the figurines business. "I accept that," said Mr Cunningham. "I may demerge it next year."

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