Hinchliffe goes on shopping

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The Independent Online
Stephen Hinchliffe, the Sheffield entrepreneur who acquired last week the assets of Torq, the jewellery chain, is in the middle of negotiations to buy another well-known name.

He hopes to conclude a deal in the next few days with an already profitable group, which he will add to his rapidly expanding empire.

Mr Hinchliffe's privately owned group, Salisburys Stores, already owns Salisburys, the handbag and luggage chain previously owned by Signet, and Sock Shop, which it bought from Murray Johnstone, the Scottish investment group, last October. The group now employs around 2,500 people and owns 350 stores.

The recent spate of deals marks a breathtaking comeback for a man who was eased out of James Wilkes, a publicly owned Sheffield engineering company, three years ago on the launch of a bid for the company by Petrocon, another engineering group.

James Wilkes's City adviser, NM Rothschild, agreed to defend the company only if Mr Hinchliffe stepped down as chairman, which he duly did after a tense, late-night meeting at Rothschild's London offices.

Its reservations about Mr Hinchliffe appear to have focused on the central overhead costs under his chairmanship at Wilkes.

Rothschild calculated that these costs came to more than £1m. This, they believed, was too high for a company that was making annual profits of less than £2m.

Mr Hinchliffe, whose contract ensured that he received a £500,000-plus pay-off, picked himself up from the Wilkes saga to start a sports services company. Meanwhile, James Wilkes remained independent until it was taken over by Suter.

Mr Hinchliffe says that the finance for his latest purchase comes out of his company's own resources. Sales in his group amount to around £130m.

He also owns Colibri Lighters, the lighters, pens and men's jewellery company, and French and Scott, the cosmetics company that trades as French of London.

He plays down the previous spat with Rothschild. "They still ring me up to see if I'm interested in deals, so I can't be getting on with them that badly," he says.

"There's no doubt that he's a very competent deal-maker,'' one merchant banker says. "He's clearly made plenty of money out of some of these deals and he's always going to be around when deals come along."

In 1984 Mr Hinchliffe bought the Wades furnishing group from Asda. He later sold it to Waring & Gillow for a profit of £7.3m.

He is a keen football supporter - not only does he have a football pitch on the land around his house near Sheffield, he also owns 15 per cent of Sheffield United, the city's first division football club.

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