‘Revitalised’ mail order seed firm Thompson & Morgan up for sale

Bryan Magrath, CEO of Thompson & Morgan

Bryan Magrath, CEO of Thompson & Morgan - Credit: Archant

A ‘revitalised’ mail order seed and plant company is up for sale following a remarkable upturn in fortunes under its new boss.

Ipswich based seed firm Thompson & Morgan.

Ipswich based seed firm Thompson & Morgan.

Ipswich-based Thompson & Morgan, the largest business of its kind in Britain, says it is looking to next stage of its development after being approached by a number of potential suitors.

The £32million turnover firm, which last year saw its profits rise to £1.4 million, up from £218,000 the year before, employs about 200 permanent staff, swelling to 350 including temporary and agency employees during its peak season through spring and early summer.

A company spokesman described the news as a “positive thing”. No job losses are anticipated.

Boss Bryan Magrath, whose previous roles include chief executive of Dixons, Vision Express and founder of Staples office supplies, joined the business about a year ago after its chief executive of 17 years John May passed over the reins and became deputy chairman. Mr Magrath was tasked with turning around the business and increasing profitability, which he has been successful in achieving.

Pic Lucy Taylor
Ipswich based seed firm Thompson & Morgan ahead of their open weekend

News Pic Lucy Taylor Ipswich based seed firm Thompson & Morgan ahead of their open weekend

The firm’s improved performance and revitalised profitability have attracted a number of potential buyers. If a deal does go ahead, it is not expected to happen for another six to nine months.

Current owner, Primary Capital, a growth company investor which backed a management buyout of the firm in 2002, said it had been approached by a number of interested parties and is now considering options for the future of the business. It is understood it has appointed Catalyst Corporate Finance to advise on a sale that could value the seed business at more than £15million.

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Turnover at Thompson & Morgan, founded in 1855 by William Thompson from a small garden behind a baker’s shop on Tavern Street in Ipswich, has more than doubled since the company was bought by Primary Capital.

In recent years the company has consolidated its market-leading position, with e-commerce revenue more than twice that of its nearest competitor, it said.

Thompson & Morgan's plant breeding site near Ipswich

Thompson & Morgan's plant breeding site near Ipswich

“May 2015 alone saw 1.7 million visits to the award-winning website, marking the best ever start to the spring season for the online specialists,” it added.

“The improved performance of the past 12 months has been driven by a major focus on operational efficiency and exciting new product developments including the launch of Incredibloom® fertiliser, Incredicompost® and a new range of Van Meuwen branded seeds.”

Thompson & Morgan has also made four key brand acquisitions in recent years, snapping up Van Meuwen, Rainbow Flowers & Gifts, The Vernon Geranium Nursery and Chempak Fertilisers, which have helped to broaden its product and brand range.

The company now offers the most comprehensive seed and plant range in the UK. Its website features over 8,000 products and the brand itself is well known among the gardening community. Its products are sold through major garden centres across the UK and Europe, via mail order catalogues, online and through TV and newspaper promotions.

Mr Magrath said: “This is an exciting time for Thompson & Morgan. It’s flattering to be considered an attractive target for investment, but we remain focused on our plans for the autumn season and won’t be distracted. The process is at an early stage, various offers and options are being discussed.

“The horticultural industry has seen many changes in the past 12 months and several major players have sadly had to be bailed out with last minute buyouts to prevent their demise. We are at the other end of the scale; a boost in performance and profitability has put us on the radar of new investors. The future is looking bright for the UK’s largest online and mail order seed & plant specialist.”