Majestic Wine sold to Fortress for £95m

American investment firm Fortress has wrapped up a £95 million deal to buy the Majestic retail chain, its Calais stores and its commercial arm.

Fortress, which is owned by Japan’s SoftBank and has $39.2 billion of assets under management, praised Majestic’s “strong cross channel journey, expert staff and widespread brand affection”.

Majestic bought online retailer Naked Wines in 2015 and installed Naked founder Rowan Gormley as group chief executive.

It continued to run both as separate businesses within the same group, but earlier this year it decided to rename the group Naked Wines plc to reflect an increased focus on online retailing.

It considered either rebranding the 190 Majestic stores as Naked Wines showrooms or closing the retail stores. After a consultation process, it decided to sell the entire Majestic business as a whole, and Fortress has now swooped in. The move has safeguarded 1,000 jobs.

Joshua Lincoln, managing director at Majestic, said: “Majestic has been on the UK high street for almost 40 years, building a bank of affection for our bottles, people and stores.

“In March when it was announced Majestic may be closed, or rebranded, I received thousands of emails from concerned customers - with some incredible stories about our wines and people. It made finding a suitable buyer for the business crucial.

“We intend to be the leader in the U.K. retail revolution with a focus on experience, expertise and product.

“Over 1,000 roles and Majestic’s store network will remain.

“Majestic has grown through periods of dramatic change, I know we have the recipe to do it again. We want to keep investing in our stores, in our people and our product - everything you can feel, touch and sip. After all, you cannot taste wine online.”

Majestic was founded in 1980, sells more than 37 million bottles of wine, spirits and beers each year to a base of more than 1 million customers. The retail business had a turnover of more than £300 million last year.

Fortress said in a statement: “Majestic is a British institution, occupying a unique position as the nation’s largest wine retailer.

“It offers a seamless customer experience across multiple channels —physical retail, online, subscription and to the on-trade—and has a customer base which loves its stores, people, brand and - of course - wines. We are excited to work with management to grow the Majestic story.”

The company formerly known as Majestic, which is rebranding to Naked Wines plc, has tied up a separate deal to sell a freehold property in Ealing to a commercial property developer and it expects net proceeds of at least £5 million.

That takes its total capital raised to £100 million and it will use the money to pay off debts, invest in customer acquisition for Naked Wines and return £3.8m to shareholders through a previously-announced special dividend.

“Today’s announcement represents another significant milestone in the evolution of the group, by freeing up capital and resource to pursue the significant growth opportunity ahead of Naked,” the group said.

Majestic said the first £78 million from Fortress would be payable in cash upon completion of the deal, which is expected to be completed in the final quarter of this year.

Another £5 million cash payout will be contingent on “the post-Brexit regulatory landscape and performance of Les Celliers de Calais” and a further £12 million will be financed through a loan note between Majestic and Fortress.

Gatemore Capital Management, which owns almost 4% of Majestic and is counts itself as a top-10 shareholder in the business, told the FT it backed the sale of the Majestic business. “Having worked closely with the board and management to ensure shareholder value is maximised, we are excited for the company’s prospects going forward as a standalone, high-growth and profitable business,” said Liad Meidar, a Gatemore managing partner.

Gormley will continue to spearhead the Naked Wines project. “Naked has the greater potential for growth, and will deliver the best results for our shareholders, customers, people and suppliers over time,” he said. “Majestic Wine started life with a disruptive model that challenged the status quo. Now is the right time to do it again under the Naked brand. We’ll operate a much simpler business with one brand and one business model. We’re well-resourced, have a clear focus on growth, and we believe we can accelerate investment to build a bigger, more profitable business in the longer term.”

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