CCSigns is the ultimate success story for business apprentice turned owner Paul Tugby, who acquired the company in January 2018.
Established in 1975 by brother and sister Andrew and Liz Cullen, CCSigns initially concentrated on servicing estate agent boards. The company rapidly expanded to become a leading local manufacturer of all kinds of signage, from shop fascias to vehicle livery.
Paul joined the business in 1993 as an apprentice. Impressing the owners with his commitment and business acumen, Paul was given a 10% share of CCSigns in 2007 as part of the owners’ exit strategy.
The plan was for the day-to-day running of the business to be gradually handed over to Paul with the view of him buying the remaining 90% of the shares from the owners on their retirement.
Under Paul’s direction the company has grown from two staff and two vans in 1975, to having its own screen printing department, a design studio, 16 staff and 10 vans today.
When it came to the MBO, having no deposit Paul struggled to secure finance from his bank NatWest. They advised him to use The British Bank’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG). Known to be a complicated process, Mitchells Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers was brought on board to help and advise Paul through the process.
Here, Paul tells us of the highs and lows of the MBO and his experience of using the Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG). While not straightforward, the EFG has enabled him to secure a bright future for himself and CCSigns.
How did Mitchells assist in the MBO?
While it was a friendly and planned MBO, unfortunately I had no capital to secure against a bank loan to fund the purchase of the owners’ shares. This put the MBO in jeopardy until NatWest suggested using the Enterprise Finance Guarantee. It is basically a government-backed 75% guarantee to the bank on your behalf for the finance. Having no experience of this or of the mountains of documentation required, NatWest put me in touch with Andrew McDaid at Mitchells to assist me with the MBO and EFG application.
How did Mitchells help?
First and foremost, Andrew acted as a mediator between me, the bank and the EFG scheme. He knew it was an involved process. He helped me make sense of the paperwork and also understood what I needed to do to secure the guarantee. This meant he also brought onboard a specialist corporate solicitor, Caroline Thomas from Freeths, who acted on behalf of Paul and advised on the legal documentation for the MBO. Without that help, it would have been a legal nightmare and impossible to satisfy requirements for the EFG scheme.
Aside from the red tape, Andrew was instrumental in ensuring what became a long, drawn-out process moved along. He kept the momentum going on a daily basis as well as dealing with and managing unexpected issues. He also put in place a tax efficient structure for loan repayments which will give me savings throughout the term of the loan.
What would you have done differently if you could?
The EFG scheme has enabled me to buy my business and for that I am grateful, but the process was incredibly long and stressful and easily the most challenging part of the MBO. I wouldn’t have needed to use the scheme if I had had some capital behind me. To that end, I wish that in the years prior to the buyout, when I was made a shareholder, I’d had the foresight to save for a deposit.
What are your future plans for CCSigns?
The former owners of CCSigns had been reducing their role within the company since I became a shareholder in 2007. To that end I have been, to all intents and purposes, running the business myself in recent years in readiness for the handover. I was given pretty much free rein to run the business on my own which meant the company has grown and developed in the direction I now want it to continue, so I have no plans to change it. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
How does it feel to finally secure ownership of CCSigns?
Life changing! But also, an overwhelming feeling of relief. Although it was a friendly MBO, the process had been unnecessarily challenging because of the demands of the EFG scheme. At times I felt like giving up but I couldn’t contemplate someone else buying the business after I had put so much of myself into it. Luckily, Mitchells was able to reassure me throughout the process which definitely helped me hang in there. It all worked out though and I finally allowed myself a celebratory drink on 18 January 2018.