william flew books and cards

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Card Factory has caught the bug for customised cards and gifts, buying one of Britain’s ten biggest gift websites and joining what has become the latest online gold rush.

The private equity-owned chain of 570 greetings card shops has bought GettingPersonal.co.uk, which sells customised mugs, cards and even bottles of champagne with personal messages. The site has been profitable since its launch five years ago and reported sales of £11.5 million in the year to April, up 22 per cent on the previous year. It attracted investment last year from the private equity group Isis.

The deal will hand windfalls to John Smith and Giles Harridge, who founded the business after meeting at their wives’ antenatal classes. Mr Smith said that GettingPersonal would benefit from Card Factory’s low prices and retail expertise. “If you’re offered the option of something that’s personalised for the same price as something that isn’t, it’s a pretty easy choice,” he said.

Card Factory has avoided the travails of its larger rival Clinton Cards, which has declared two of its subsidiaries insolvent in recent years. Another rival, Celebrations, went out of business in 2009.

Richard Hayes, its chief executive, said that the company’s ambitions remained, despite the woes in the market: “Our focus is very much on dealing with growing our own business. This is a chance for us to continue pushing. Over the last six years we have opened more than a store a week and increased turnover more than fivefold. We’ve been very focused on our performance, not the competition.”

Since Card Factory was bought last year in a management buyout backed by Charterhouse Capital Partners, the pace of store openings has increased, with 45 in the past six months. It bought 74 Celebrations stores out of administration in 2008. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and accounting charges were £64 million, up 20 per cent, in the year to January 31.

GettingPersonal is merely the latest in a parade of online personalisation businesses to have attracted takeover interest. Amazon announced last week that it was to buy The Book Depository, a move that surprised observers. Amazon’s strength in selling books online led to speculation that it was primarily interested in Espressio, a new website developed by The Book Depository that enables users to create personalised picture books.

The personalised greetings cards company Moonpig is in sale talks with Photobox, a private equity-owned online photo business, which, according to reports, could hand its founder, the former Glencore trader Nick Jenkins, £100 million.

Card Factory was founded from the back of a van by Dean and Janet Hoyle in 1997. Its sale in April last year netted the couple about £350 million. Since then it has opened about 140 stores. It has built a commanding position, mainly in the North of England, through low prices and its ownership of printing presses and a design studio

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