Exhibition News March 2019 - Page 23

Cover Feature “There’s a lot of money around, and lots of people are looking to buy” to go down the private equity route, at that point it wasn’t the right time. I started talking to Phoenix probably late summer. At the time they were talking to Peter and thinking about buying Western Business Exhibitions. I was talking about investing and becoming managing director. It wasn’t just a question of saying, ‘go on, I’ll give you my money and I’ll join’, it was, ‘do we think she’s the right person and will she complement Peter’s skills?’ It’s still early doors but the business has huge potential. The frustrating thing for me is that there aren’t many processes because it’s pretty much a start-up. We’ve got Western in east Grinstead, Nineteen in Wimbledon, and everyone has a different system for everything. It’s early doors but in terms of trading, and in terms of the people, the opportunity is huge. It’s just overwhelming deciding what to do first. As our partners Phoenix are encouraging us to spend and to build the business rapidly, which is great because in a big corporate it can sometimes take a long time, this is a lot faster. It’s just a question of what to do first. Our problem is that there’s so much potential it’s about which one to pick, but we do have a couple of acquisitions on the table. Nicola Macdonald, EN editor: In a similar industry? AJ: Complementary… NM: Peter, have you ever been on the acquiring side before? PJ: Normally I’ve been acquired. That’s where our skillsets fit. Alison has been on the other side of the fence as an acquirer. From having been acquired many times I understand it from the seller side, and that’s actually put us in really good stead. We’re very close to acquisition number two. Invariably you’re dealing with a smaller business there are anxieties about their future, home and family. Buying stuff isn’t necessarily easy, especially as what we feel is very interesting is off-market acquisitions – we’re looking for the stuff out there that’s good but that’s not obviously for sale. AJ: There’s a question of influencing the seller to sell to us and not go through a process and a bidding war. There’s a lot of money around and lots of people looking to buy. We’re in the trade show market and there are still a lot of them around, plus we don’t have a minimum turnover or profit to buy. We’d buy something smaller than perhaps UBM would’ve looked at in the past. But even when you get in front of them you still have to win hearts and minds. NM: What is the seller-buyer power dynamic in the industry at the moment? AJ: There’s a lot of cash around. Everyone can afford to buy, and it’s a question of finding out what deals are off-market, which is quite a lot trickier. We’re talking to someone at the moment who will definitely sell, at some point. There’s a bit of luck involved. They have to know that if they’re going to sell to you then you’re not going to ruin their baby. There’s an art. PJ: The difficult thing is that these people aren’t in the mindset of selling their business, and they’re not in that mindset because once you get a trade show to a certain point, if you’re in years four and five you’re making a profit. AJ: You can have a nice life living off that. PJ: It’s a lifestyle. There can be initial excitement about selling and a bit of upfront cash but then what do you do after that? That’s the challenge. AJ: And a lot of vendors are scared by private equity. They think they’re going to change everything, and a lot of corporates do change and make people relocate. The beauty with us is that we’re quite happy to let them get on with it. NM: Will WBE continue to exist as its own business? AJ: For now it will stand alone as part of Nineteen Group and we’ll help them run their shows. NM: Did you feel that private equity was a route that would enable you to maintain the identity of Nineteen Group? PJ: That’s what really appealed to us. We had an opportunity to sell the show March — 23