The high street billionaire Philip Day is drawing up plans to extend his empire into the garden centre business by tabling a takeover bid for Wyevale, the UK’s biggest operator.
Sky News has learnt that Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM) has lodged an offer for Wyevale Garden Centres, which is owned by the buyout firm headed by the City financier Guy Hands.
Wyevale was put up for sale by Terra Firma Capital Partners in May, with the property agent Christies hired to sell the company as a whole or on a piecemeal basis.
Sources close to the process say that Mr Hands is seeking a price well in excess of £300m, although a Terra Firma spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday.
Dubai-based Mr Day, who has become one of the wealthiest figures in British retailing, has made a habit of buying prominent brands such as Jaeger and Jane Norman at knockdown prices.
EWM also owns Peacocks and Austin Reed.
Mr Day also held talks about a rescue bid for Maplin, the electrical goods chain, shortly before its collapse into administration in March, but was unable to agree the terms of a deal.
In recent weeks, the EWM owner has emerged as an unlikely figure in the battle for control of the board at Stobart Group, the industrial conglomerate.
Mr Day has been proposed as the potential chairman of Stobart by Neil Woodford, the leading fund manager who is backing the company’s former chief executive, Andrew Tinkler.
One insider said that Mr Day had made an offer for Wyevale after becoming acquainted with the company through concessions he operates in some of its 145 garden centres across Britain.
However, a source familiar with EWM’s bid said it was not prepared to overpay and suggested it was unlikely to be a front-runner in the auction.
Wyevale has experienced a difficult few years, with market conditions becoming increasingly challenging, while a string of management changes has reflected the operational problems that Terra Firma has had.
Its performance has improved in the last 12 months, under the close attention of Justin King, the former J Sainsbury boss who now oversees Terra Firma’s portfolio companies, and Roger McLaughlan, Wyevale’s new chief executive.
Other bidders for parts of Wyevale include rival Dobbies and smaller garden centre groups.
Initial offers were tabled last month, with the auction expected to conclude during the summer.
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A source said that the level of interest from bidders was “very pleasing”.
A spokesman for Mr Day declined to comment.