Terra Firma tipped for GCG buy

Talks with private equity group said to be advanced with a deal expected for the 130-centre chain.

The Garden Centre Group (GCG) looks set to be bought by private equity group Terra Firma.

Sources close to GCG said Terra Firma, led by chairman Guy Hands, was in exclusive talks to buy the 130-centre chain. The deal is now "far down the line" and could be closed as soon as this week.

Hands has said he found garden centres attractive because they were an "essential part of the British psyche".

GCG chief executive Nicholas Marshall indicated that he wanted to stay on to use new investment to improve GCG and eventually take it public by using its two-million garden club members as shareholders.

Terra Firma said it "focuses on businesses where our views differ from the market consensus - companies that are often out of favour, usually as a result of being neglected, under-managed or under-invested".

Since 1994, Terra Firma has invested EUR14bn, mainly in Europe, including EMI and William Hill. It has £1bn for new projects.

The company would not confirm that it was in exclusive talks. Some sources suggested that CCMP was still in the running.

Analyst's View

"This is a distress sale because banks are trying to lose exposure to retail so Terra Firma should get it at a good price. Guy Hands will want to rent space to third parties and develop the garden centres. I'd be surprised if it wanted new build but it could buy smaller private groups, particularly in the South East. I'm a GCG garden club member and if it had a compelling strategy I would buy shares."

Freddie George, retail analyst, Seymour Pierce.

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