JPMorgan pays £350m for IMO

The private equity arm of JP Morgan Chase has agreed to pay £350m for the UK car wash business acquired in 1998 by a consortium including Bridgepoint Capital and Phoenix Equity Partners.

JPMorgan Partners (JPMP), the private equity arm of US investment bank JP Morgan Chase, has announced its first UK investment in almost a year, agreeing to acquire London-headquartered car wash company IMO Car Wash Group.


JPMP is backing existing chief executive Bret Holden in a transaction valued at £350m, with debt financing provided by Bank of Scotland.


Founded in 1965, IMO Car Wash Group is the world's largest conveyor car wash business and is marketed under the IMO and ARC brand names. The UK business was bought by a group of financial investors led by Bridgepoint in 1998. Phoenix Equity Partners and BNP Paribas also participated in the original buyout, which valued the business at £141m.


In the last four years, IMO has doubled the number of outlets and tripled its EBITDA to over £40m. The company presently operates more than 800 car washes across twelve countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Spain, and the UK. In January 2002, IMO acquired Toman Group from Harpen, part of the German utility RWE, for £80m in a deal backed by further funding from its private equity owners.


At the time of the Toman acquisition, analysts had indicated that IMO could float at a valuation of circa £300m.


Bridgepoint Capital declined to disclose its return on investment although sources close to the firm said the exit represented a money multiple of three times. The sale also marks the firm’s first exit of 2004, following a steady flow of deal activity last year, which saw the firm sell twelve portfolio companies.


“We are very proud of what we have accomplished at IMO over the last five years, which has seen a large increase in the scale and reach of the business,” said Bret Holden in a statement. “Our aim now is to focus on growing our market share.”


“The business has outstanding potential reflecting its dominant position in a growing market,” said Stephen Welton, a partner at JPMorgan Partners. “We look forward to helping the IMO management team under the leadership of Bret Holden take the business to its next stage of development, which will see an increased roll out of new sites across Europe.”