The Future’s Bright - RDK’s look at market activity in the Childcare sector over the past six months
It’s hard to believe that we are already almost half way through 2013, and so much has happened within the sector since this time last year. Although change is part of life and in the main undoubtedly a good thing, I’m pleased to note that one thing within our sector has remained consistent: its resilience and strength. As Redwoods Dowling Kerr have commented previously, the sector continues to outperform expectations – at RDK we are selling more Nurseries, not less, than in previous years – and the future for Nursery sales looks incredibly positive. We have always been proud that our sector is innovative, adaptable and prepared to meet the challenges presented, and the first part of 2013 has been no exception.
As predicted by RDK previously, levels of corporate activity have increased significantly and this is driving demand in the market, something which is evidenced by Bright Horizons’ acquisition of Kidsunlimited in a £45m deal last month. The deal brings the Bright Horizons nursery portfolio in the UK to a total of 203 nurseries, with a capacity to provide care for around 15,500 children. This is a shining example of the buoyancy in the sector and comes hot on the heels of Treetops Nurseries’ acquisition of the Toybox Nurseries portfolio. The Treetops deal was facilitated by Redwoods Dowling Kerr alongside the Altius Corporate Management team, Paul Miller and Andrew K Steen. We have worked closely with Treetops to understand the group’s strategic acquisition requirements and the type of settings which would provide a good overall fit. Treetops wished to extend their already impressive portfolio with nurseries that have an established reputation for excellence in Childcare with a strong team of staff already in place, that are well ran and which are synergistic geologically for the group. Redwoods Dowling Kerr and Altius Corporate researched the market and identified the Toybox nurseries as a strong strategic acquisition, and entered into discussions with the vendors who were receptive to our approach. Discussions progressed at a pace and thanks to the professionalism of all parties involved in the transaction the deal itself took less than six months to complete.
The acquisition is a strong strategic fit for Treetops and provides a superb opportunity, not only for growth but for Treetops to expand their existing portfolio with premier nurseries which have been run by the vendors to the highest standard, with fantastic staff training, facilities and quality throughout.
David Hancock, Managing Director of Treetops Nurseries commented:
“Having RDK as one of our strategic partners has been a terrific help. RDK clearly understand what we look for in a potential acquisition, this enables us to focus on the right opportunity and get an outcome that will strengthen the Treetops brand”.
We now expect the latest corporate Bright Horizons and Treetops deals to spark activity along the wider acquisition chain and stimulate sales in 2013. Indeed, we are already in discussions with several more medium sized groups with regards to both acquisition and sales plans.
There have been other notable transitions within the market. We have noticed a trend whereby we are experiencing quick sales for Nurseries that are being marketed for less than £100,000, which are popular with first time buyers and new entrants to the sector. As an example, we recently sold a West Midlands Day Nursery within this price bracket, which sold for its asking price after receiving an offer just two weeks after coming to market. In addition to this, contrary to expectation, under-performing nurseries can and do sell quickly: one such Nursery recently went from offer to exchange within three weeks, going on to complete within just six weeks.
Across the market Leasehold remains the most popular type of sale due to their affordability: 78% of RDK’s sales last year were either Leaseholds or Occupation Agreements. We are working with increasing numbers of vendors who are looking to lease their business and retain ownership of the bricks and mortar. This gives the vendor the benefit of realising the sale of the business whilst retaining an ongoing income with the option of freehold sale at some later point in the future. That said, Freehold sales are still at higher than anticipated levels; 22% of our sales last year were Freehold opportunities. Another point that is worth noting is the so-called ‘North South divide.’ It is a long standing belief that market sale activity in the South exceeds that in the North, but in fact our experience is that this is far from the case. In 2012, 36% of Redwoods Dowling Kerr’s sales were Southern sales, 34% were Northern sales, and 30% were sales in the Midlands. Consequently activity levels are strong nationwide. Interest has come from a wide selection of buyers in 2012 and the first portion of 2013, with a strong mix of new, existing and corporate buyers involved in deals. We have found that first time buyers are usually either professionals currently working within the childcare sector who now have the funding to enable them to invest, or people who are looking to invest from another sector, such as Care Home operators. Large groups continue to grow on the whole, although some are also rationalising the portfolios and choosing to sell off poorer performing units. There is also growth within the wider childcare sector, such as in Private Schools and specialist Children’s Homes.
We expect Nursery groups to continue to expand over the next year, particularly following the previously mentioned Treetops and Bright Horizons deals. Overall we expect activity levels to augment in 2013 with the increased buyer activity impacting across the full acquisition chain. For a number of years now, RDK has always maintained a message of positivity, whilst others have had a more pessimistic outlook, and we are delighted that we continue to be involved in deals which not only support, but emphasise the strength of our industry.
To speak with one of our Childcare experts about buying or selling a nursery, please call us on 0844 2488 325.