UK: Cosipet - Dog days and after. (3 of 4)

UK: Cosipet - Dog days and after. (3 of 4) - Worthington's suspicions that Bunzl no longer intended to develop its own pet products were confirmed early on, when she returned from holiday one day to find that North West Plastics had laid off the salesfor

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Worthington's suspicions that Bunzl no longer intended to develop its own pet products were confirmed early on, when she returned from holiday one day to find that North West Plastics had laid off the salesforce. Having previously set out to challenge Thomas's, the division of Mars which is the biggest force in the UK pets' accessories market, the Manchester company had done a quick about-turn and arranged for its Hyware brand to be distributed through Thomas's. That left Cosipet out in the cold. Although a profit centre, and separately incorporated, Cosipet was merely a production unit and had no full-time salesman of its own after Alex Griffiths. Worthington and Legg had to make good the deficiency themselves by keeping up with wholesalers; and they relied increasingly on Martin Tyack, a self-employed export salesman who represents half a dozen companies from his Nottingham base, to drum up orders at home as well as overseas.

Towards the end of the 1980s the attentions of Worthington and Legg, who had become close friends, were repeatedly diverted by Bunzl's attempts to find a buyer. Senior management wanted to know how many employees might be prepared to relocate. The predictable answer, given a workforce which consisted overwhelmingly of married women, was "none". A few prospective purchasers appeared on the scene, but not for long. One reason might have been that they wanted a commitment from Worthington and Legg which neither was prepared to give. The company had few enough assets: "Basically, what Bunzl was selling was us."

Or perhaps the vendor was just sticking out for a good price. When the question of a buyout first arose, according to Worthington, the asking price was still getting on towards seven figures - and that was a special concession to a couple of employees. Legg had some savings but no house, while Worthington already had a mortgage on a house in the next village which she had owned for only two and a half years. Thus the most that the pair could find from their own resources was some £50,000. Nevertheless, talks of a kind went on for 12 months or more.

Then, early last year, with Bunzl apparently considering whether to shut Cosipet down, progress was rapid. The two women hardly took part in any discussion, preferring to leave it to their adviser, the accountant Ernst and Young. "Things got so strained at one time," remembers Legg.

In the end they had to raise £350,000, mainly provided by 3i, which was introduced by the accountancy firm almost at the last minute. The venture capital group subscribed £35,000 for 35% of the equity, and over £100,000 in preference stock plus a loan on top. Martin Tyack, the export rep, chipped in for £15,000 of the ordinary shares, and by July, Cosipet was in business under new ownership.

Soon after the papers were signed, Worthington remarked that the transfer had come at the right time - "As we gear up in preparation for the busy Christmas period". (Perhaps she should take up golf after all.) But a good deal has been achieved during the past year despite the disappointing financial out-turn in 1990. There are new fabric designs - which Cosipet gets specially printed - and a number of new products on the market. Horse rugs, launched a couple of months ago, introduce the company to a different market sector with other outlets, and represent an attempt to find items for manufacture and sale outside the normally hectic months, which last from late summer to the new year.

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