Exit routes still open for Bridgepoint

The £116m sale of Jessops, the UK’s largest camera retailer, to ABN AMRO Capital is the latest in a series of successful exits for the European mid-market investor.

ABN AMRO Capital, the European private equity arm of ABN AMRO Bank, has completed the secondary acquisition of UK camera and photographic accessories business Jessops Ltd in a £116m transaction.

Jessops marks the tenth exit for vendor Bridgepoint Capital this year, following earlier exits from businesses including the sale in April of a majority stake in Eurogestion, the French pest control and hygiene services company it acquired in November 1999, to ISS, the quoted Danish support services group, in a deal totalling E155m.

Bridgepoint completed the original management buy-in of Jessops in 1996. At the time the company had a valuation of £42m. The number of stores operated by Jessops in the UK in the last five years has more than tripled to 236. In the past three years the company has increased sales by 94 per cent to £242m.

Bridgepoint originally planned to exit the business through a stock market listing. On two occasions, in October 2000 and earlier this year, the firm shelved plans for a listing due to adverse market conditions. At the time of the first IPO announcement, Jessops was valued at £95m. Bridgepoint Capital director Raoul Hughes described the deal as ‘highly successful’.

Jessops will be jointly owned by management and funds managed by ABN AMRO Capital. HSBC, Jessops’ bankers, have arranged and underwritten the acquisition and working capital facilities.

ABN AMRO Capital is betting on a continued growth in the UK’s digital camera market, which has grown to £2.1bn over the last five years.  The new financing will enable Jessops to open a further 26 stores in the UK in the next two years. “Over the next few years we intend to focus on expansion into the digital market and into Europe, continuation of our store roll-out programme and development of digital printing services,” said Derek Hine, Jessops chief executive.

This deal is the tenth investment completed by ABN AMRO Capital since the firm entered the leveraged buyout market in early 2000. The firm has now invested in businesses with a total value of E1.3bn, including the management buyout last month of the Commodore Group, the passenger and freight ferry operator between the UK and the Channel Islands.