Apax leads the race to buy Matchesfashion, deal within days

The sale process at Matchesfashion seems to be moving fast with private equity giant Apax reported to be in the lead to snap up a controlling stake in the expanding luxury e-tailer.


Matchesfashion


But while analysts said a final deal could be just days away, they also said it’s still too early to discount the possibility that a new winning bid might emerge.

While there had been questions over whether founders and majority owners Tom and Ruth Chapman really wanted to sell, they are believed to be close to agreeing a deal that would see them agreeing a sales that values the firm at around £800 million. They are likely to walk away with more than £400 million of that with minority partners Scottish Equity Partners and Highland Capital (which paid £32 million five years ago) also cashing in.

The past few weeks have seen a bid battle between a number of private equity firms with the initial suggested price of the company having risen by a third from £600 million as a result.

Will another bidder step in with a higher offer? Given the frantic activity around the bidding process in the past week, it could still happen, although it’s likely that the Chapmans will be keen to ensure that Matchesfashion goes to an owner that will nurture the brand in a very tough market, just as they have done over the last 30 years.

But assuming nobody else pops up with a better growth plan and more money, sources told Sky News that a deal could be sealed as early as this week.

The Chapmans started Matches as a boutique in Wimbledon, London in 1987 and it remained a relatively small physical stores business for around 20 years, even after the advent of online retail started to make an impact on the fashion sector.

But the company's move into e-tail a decade ago was what transformed its fortunes. The strategy change came at just the right time as high-end e-tail pioneers such as Net-A-Porter and Yoox became early movers in convincing luxury brands that individual high-spending consumers really would splash out thousands of pounds, dollars and euros to buy clothes and accessories online.


Matchesfashion

The company retains its three London stores and has used them to maximise omnichannel opportunities and offer more personalised services to VIP customers. But its biggest business is online and it’s global, with the company selling over 400 brands worldwide. Its prices head towards £30,000 at the top end, although items like Falke socks can also be bought for £9.

The company’s valuation having risen in just the last few weeks is perhaps no surprise given the huge potential luxury e-tail has as markets such as China grow fast. And it’s certainly no surprise given the firm’s accelerating sales and profits of late. In the year to January its sales rose 61% to £204 million and earnings on an Ebitda basis rose more than sixfold to £19 million. The sales performance is believed to have been even better this year.

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