Barry Stevenson in talks with private equity backers for bid
Barry Stevenson, former managing director of B&Q Supercentres, is casting his slide-rule over Wyevale, with a view to bidding for the garden centre chain.

Stevenson (pictured), who until last year was Marks & Spencer retail director, is understood to be discussing possible involvement with a private equity partner.

Wyevale was put into play last week after activist investor Laxey Partners, which controls about 19 per cent of the business, launched an attempt to oust the retailer's chairman David Williams.

At least six potential buyers - including Bridgepoint, Apax and JP Morgan Partners - are circling Wyevale, which is capitalised at£311 million. Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner believes a bid at 600p a share is possible, given Wyevale's market-leading position.

Stevenson would bring retail management expertise to a venture capitalist bid. However, it is not yet clear which private equity firm he is talking to.

Since leaving M&S, Stevenson has been on the lookout for a suitable deal and has set up a retail consultancy, Realize Retail Solutions.

A source close to the situation said Stevenson was assessing the opportunity presented by Wyevale, but no final decision had been made about whether to proceed. 'There are discussions going on,' he said. 'It's common knowledge that Barry thinks that market is attractive.'

His experience at B&Q would be a bonus for Wyevale, whose market is being encroached upon by DIY groups and grocers. According to Wyevale's own research, DIY retailers account for 35 per cent of the market, while specialists' share fell from 32 per cent in 2000 to 29 per cent last year.

Williams - who only joined Wyevale in March - has unveiled the Wyevale Way, a programme to improve the retail proposition and service. He also intends to focus on bigger outlets and dispose of 28 small centres. But the plans have not pacified Laxey, which claims Williams is the wrong person to drive through change.

  • On Wednesday, Wyevale appointed Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson as a non-executive. David Williams said her sales and marketing expertise would be invaluable as Wyevale implements its new strategy.