Real Affinity deal leads to stakeholder offer

The management buyout deal that has seen the owners of what was Venues Unlimited buy back the business it sold to Real Affinity Plc in 2006, will see staff offered the chance to become stakeholders in the business. So far the deal has seen founders Anita and Chris Lowe regain 100% ownership, but plans are being discussed for fellow board members Andrew Hancox (financial director) and operations director Kate Wyatt to buy a percentage of the business. Anita Lowe told C&IT that the long-term idea is to offer an even larger part of the business for sale to staff members in 2010. The news follows the announcement earlier this week that the business had been reacquired from Real Affinity Plc for a sum of £2.1m. The total valuation of the business was thought to be put at around £4.7m, but the figure was lowered due to outstanding loans the parent company owed the husband and wife team. “Right now we are simply delighted to get the company back in our complete control,” said Anita Lowe. “We will give things time to stabilise and then move to a situation where the company is owned and managed by its employees.” The background to the sale and buy-back situation began when Real Affinity Plc bought Venues Unlimited in June 2006. In the same month last year the marketing firm aligned all its businesses under two new brands, Real Affinity Agency and Real Affinity Events. The new deal sees the Lowe’s buy back all of the Venues Unlimited business and although this includes the rights to both the Real Affinity Events and Venues Unlimited names, the independent company will trade as Venues Event Management. “In the last two years we have grown to become a truly full service agency, but in terms of the brand, for a lot of our clients we never really stopped being Venues Unlimited,” explained Lowe. “With the new name we wanted to reflect both our brand heritage and how we have moved on.” The deal has been being negotiated between the Lowe’s and Real Affinity Plc executive group chairman John Ross since December. While Lowe was at pains to stress the good ongoing relationship with Ross, she conceded that she had been disappointed with the lack of input from the parent company since the 2006 acquisition. “The reason we sold was to be part of a company that had a wider offer,” said Lowe. “There was talk of expansion for us, possibly through acquisitions, but the business plans never materialised. In recent times our events have seen us provide everything from creative, production and database management to logistics and post-event evaluation and we can now confidently stand on our own two feet as a full service agency.”

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