Our investment in Focus fell into two distinct categories – one highly successful, the other disappointing. What lay between the two was an unexpected downturn in the DIY market that left the sector as a whole struggling. We’re proud that we were able to create one of the UK’s strongest DIY businesses during our tenure, and that we were able to find a home for the remaining business.
Back in 1987 we helped Focus acquire a small regional chain of six DIY stores. Under the direction of Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Archer and Finance Director Geoff Wilson and with our financial backing, Focus went on to become the UK’s second largest DIY retailer with sales of over £1.66 billion, 430 stores nationwide and over 13 million square feet of net selling space.
Our support of Bill Archer and Geoff Wilson through a succession of acquisitions and disposals demonstrates our commitment to backing high-quality management and our appetite for leveraged build-ups.
Duke Street’s long-investment in Focus started in August 1998 when we backed the acquisition of the loss-making Do It All chain from Boots for £68 million. The deal trebled the size of Focus’ business to 210 stores and for the first time gave it a truly national presence. And it showed our willingness to invest in complex turnaround situations.
It didn’t take long for the management team to identify growth opportunities and realise the benefits of greater scale. In September 2000 Focus Do It All acquired Wickes for an aggregate consideration of £325 million. Trading from 130 sites across the country Wickes specialised in trade customers and serious home improvers. The deal gave Focus Wickes a unique strength, able to service the increasingly converging ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ DIY markets through its discrete brands, at the same time enjoying the benefits of scale.
Hot on the heels of the Wickes acquisition, Focus Wickes acquired the Great Mills DIY retail chain from RMC plc for £285 million in December 2000, becoming the second largest DIY retailer in the UK. Like Focus, Great Mills concentrated on the lighter side of the DIY business and with 98 stores, mainly in the South West, it was an excellent geographic fit. These two acquisitions played a major role in the consolidation of the UK DIY industry.
In November 2002, Duke Street and its co-investors sold 28.9% of Focus Wickes to Apax Partners as part of a recapitalisation of the business.
In February 2005 Focus Wickes sold Wickes to Travis Perkins plc. At the time of sale Wickes had grown to 172 stores.
Focus was now the third largest share of the UK DIY market. But having enjoyed a sustained period of growth and resilience, the DIY market experienced a two-year drop in sales. Like its competitors, this affected Focus’ performance. The business was sold in July 2007 to a company backed by Cerberus European Investments LLC.