Rockworth advises on the sale of Phoenix Leisure Management to Compass Group

Rockworth Management Partners has advised on the sale of Phoenix Leisure Management Limited, owner-operators of the Kettering Conference Centre, to a combination of R Estates and Compass Group PLC.

The Kettering Conference Centre houses multi-purpose facilities for corporate conferences and exhibitions, as well as national sporting events, business meetings, health & leisure, and family activities & ceremonies. Although the centre was originally built as a purpose-built facility for public sports, it was repositioned by its owners into one of the largest conference venues in the East of the UK with many high-profile customers including Homebase, Travis Perkins, and Eon Energy. The 12-acre site on which the centre stands has long held significant development potential to create an exhibition hub that is easily accessible for corporations from London, the Midlands, and the North.

Rockworth were retained by the owner managers of the Conference Centre, Eric and David Atkinson, who were seeking to exit the business and maximise value. It was therefore important to identify potential buyers who would value not only the operational aspects of the centre, but also the significant expansion potential of the site. Rockworth held conversations with over 100 acquirers ranging from other conference & arena owner-operators, commercial property developers, public sector bodies, REITs and pension funds, as well as the more left-field thought of companies engaged in facilities management.

After discussions with multiple parties, it was one championed by the latter group that progressed as the ultimate buyer of the business. Compass Group, the multinational contract-FM company, were interested in the potential to operate an expanded conference venue and hotel, however, as an organisation they are asset-light. As such, they collaborated with R. Estates Limited, a commercial real-estate group, to be the acquiring entity for the centre and worked closely with R. Estates during the process and due diligence phase. As the ultimate operator of the centre, Compass took particular interest in the adjustment of the planning permission for the venue, including a new hotel development. Rockworth led the negotiations throughout ensuring a smooth process until completion.

The Kettering Conference Centre is a complex business with a range of offerings, high-profile business conferences, community activities, family entertainment, high-end leisure, and national sports. There were also a number of intricacies around the developmental aspects of the land, its leasehold status, and commitments to the council and local public.
Having approached a few agents previously to gauge interest and seek expressions of interest we had little success. Even though we were in a niche area with a handful of sizeable companies and we felt we knew who the “obvious” buyers in this market could be, when talks progressed these parties found our business too big or too diverse to progress.
We were initially attracted to the Rockworth approach and attitude to a business sale and this was confirmed in practice. They confidentially researched and approached a broad array of potential buyers outside of the sector and we were pleasantly surprised that a facilities management company like Compass Group ultimately showed the highest level of interest. The negotiations and due-diligence processes involved numerous parties including, the landowner, local council, planners, lawyers, accountants, property investors, and Compass, but we are delighted with the outcome and managed to complete the sale-process within a year of signing with Rockworth.
I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Rockworth’s distinctive approach to any business owners considering a sale of their business with an emphasis on discretion.

Eric Atkinson, Director