Shearings to be taken over?

ONE of Wigan’s most successful businesses was facing growing speculation today that it is about to be taken over.

Private equity firms are hoping to buy Shearings coach firm in the New Year, leaving staff at its Wigan headquarters, in Miry Lane, facing with an uncertain future.

A number of outfits are understood to have submitted bids for the company, which employs around 3,000 people, and has been the subject of a strategic review by accountants and business advisers Deloitte.

The interested parties are thought to include LDC, Dunedin Capital Partners and Graphite Capital.

But a spokesman for Shearings today tried to play down suggestions of a sale.

He said: “We have already confirmed that a strategic review of the business is taking place, but there is no update on this.

“The latest reports are pure speculation.”

It was reported in April that private equity owners, 3i, were considering whether to sell Shearings for around £125m.

However, a spokesman said that the board was “assessing a number of options to support the delivery of its mid-term growth plan.”

Shearings runs coach tours and hotels as well as ocean and river cruises.

It has traditionally aimed at the over-50s, but earlier this year said it would seek to attract younger customers.

The firm was bought by 3i five years ago, and merged with the London and Croydon-based coach holiday company Wallace Arnold, a previous investment.

Denis Wormwell, the former boss of National Express’ coach division, was brought in as chief executive in 2008.

The company acquired its 50th hotel in April, and unveiled plans to add up to 10 more properties over the next three years, with ones in areas including the Lake District, North Wales, Kent and Cornwall in its sights.

As well as its acquisition programme, Shearings has invested millions in refurbishments of its existing hotels, which operate under the Coast & Country and Bay brands.

Shearings posted revenues of £180.4m for 2009, down from £183.7m, with underlying pre-tax profits up 8% at £4.1m.

The company’s fleet has brought the name of Wigan into towns and cities across Europe as holidaymakers travelled on their coaches.

Indeed, many people have made lifelong lasting friendships as they holiday with Shearings together with people they had met on previous trips.