Inside Track by Peter Martin
Barracuda moved to the top of the takeover rumour league this weekend, propelled by a speculative piece in The Sunday Times suggesting a potential £150m sale for the 155-site group. It’s not the first time this particular scenario has been raised in the press, with reports that private equity backer PPM Ventures is using Citigroup to look at its options. A float, now back on the agenda post La Tasca, or a money-raising exercise to put Barracuda into the role as a potential market consolidator are other possibilities. If nothing else the publicity will just help smoke out interest in the business. Barracuda, with its Varsity, Smith & Jones and Barracuda Bar brands, would surely make a tasty acquisition. An auction involving Robert Tchenguiz, already the owner of Laurel, GI Partners, the acquirers of Yates Group, Greene King and possibly Wolves & Dudley wouldn’t be a surprise, with perhaps a couple of private equity firms wanting to get in on the pub consolidation act thrown in for good measure. Barracuda has been growing fast and gaining a reputation as a good retailer under the leadership of Mark McQuater. The regard with which it is held amongst its peers was reflected with McQuater being one of the six finalists for the title of M&C Report’s Retailers Retailer of the Year at this week’s awards evening. Barracuda may be the current "hot tip", but the truth is there is hardly a managed pub chain that isn’t "in play" at the moment. Regent Inns, SFI, Mill House, the rump of Noble House all have supporters tipping them as the best takeover candidate. The game of matching target with investor is taking on all the style of speed dating, as suitors do the rounds at a break-neck rate. Then there’s Spirit. Will it get its float away or will in be split up and sold off instead? Not a new question, but one gathering pace again. Of course, last Thursday was one of the top gossip nights of the year. It was the Retailers’ Retailer Awards, attended by a good few of the sectors big name players. So, who was that talking to Robert Tchenguiz? The impression is that these days more time is being spent speculating about who is going to buy what and which management team is going to move where than actually on running the business. The counter to that is that there is still a lot of emphasis on innovation and retail initiative, witnessed by the healthy number of new concepts and turnaround businesses being put up for awards, as well as those for best deal and best investor. The truth is, and it shouldn’t be escaped, is that this is an entrepreneurial sector that is all about making money – and finding the right partner to do it with. The beauty parades and financial speed-dating spectacles are all part of the game. Speculating on the next deal is a real sign of the sector’s vitality. Be thankful, people actually want to work and invest in it.