We had tracked the UK holiday parks sector for a number of years as an attractive sub sector of the leisure market, but asset values had become inflated prior to the credit crunch. Despite the challenging economic climate in 2009/10, the UK tourism industry was performing well and had robust long-term growth drivers.
We believed that the sector would not only continue to benefit from these trends but, in addition, the very fragmented nature of the UK holiday park sector would provide strong potential for value creation. As a result, we researched off market investment opportunities and, through this, were introduced to the highly experienced sector management team of Graham Hodgson and Bev Dixon.
Graham and Bev have an impressive track record – they previously led the private equity backed MBO of South Lakeland Parks, selling in December 2007 – and they were looking for a suitable buy-in opportunity. We quickly established a strong rapport with the team and worked hand in hand with them to create the right deal.
In September 2010, we backed them with Graham as CEO, Bev as Operations Director and Andrew Wall, previously a partner at both HMT Corporate Finance and KPMG, as Finance Director, in a management buy-in of Dunham Leisure – a holiday park business based in South East Scotland – thereby creating Verdant Leisure.
Dunham Leisure comprised two well-established parks: Thurston Manor, a 175 acre park situated 30 miles from Edinburgh near the historic coastal town of Dunbar in East Lothian; and Pease Bay, which is located directly beside a sandy beach, five miles south east of Thurston Manor. Pease Bay is extremely popular with surfers and has hosted the Scottish surfing championships.
Graham and Bev recognised that the parks had excellent foundations and a strong customer reputation, but nevertheless offered significant development potential and represented an attractive platform from which to implement a buy and build strategy to create a larger regional group with significant scale.
Our credibility in this specialist niche of the leisure sector and our ability to form a relationship with the vendor was critical to converting the opportunity.
The existing Verdant parks have performed strongly since the buy-in, reinforcing the team’s well-established reputation for adding significant value to the assets they acquire.
Graham Hodgson, Verdant Leisure
We’ve been highly selective in reviewing the many acquisition opportunities that have come our way since the buy-in last year and we singled out Viewfield Manor as a well located park offering clear operational improvement and growth opportunities. Whilst it is complementary to the existing Verdant parks in that there is a significant cross over in catchment area, Viewfield Manor also expands the breadth of our market offering and we are excited about its addition to our portfolio.
Verdant has been highly selective in reviewing the many acquisition opportunities that presented themselves after the buy-in. Being strongly supportive of the team’s vision for acquisitive growth, we were delighted to back it when making its first bolt-on acquisition in July 2011: Viewfield Manor. Viewfield, a 298 static pitch site located a few miles inland from the Ayrshire Coast and c.20 miles from Glasgow, is a conveniently located park offering clear operational improvement and growth opportunities.
In January 2012 we also backed the acquisition of Riverside Country Park in Wooler, Northumberland, a 78 acre, year-round park with a current maximum capacity of 440 static pitches and 72 touring pitches. In this instance, RJD’s flexibility and agility were key to securing the deal in a difficult financing environment.
Both parks are complementary to the existing Verdant parks with significant crossover in catchment areas, making them an excellent strategic fit with the business.
To discuss Verdant Leisure in more detail, please contact Richard Caston.
Watch a video interview with Richard Caston, in which he discusses RJD’s approach to the holiday park sector and Verdant Leisure in particular, here.