Ex-ELC chiefs in hunt for investment opportunity

The former Early Learning Centre management team is eyeing opportunities following the sale of the business to entrepreneur Tim Waterstone for£62 million.

Mike France and Peter Ellis, who owned more than 30 per cent of the business, valuing their stake at more than£20 million, both arrived at the retailer in 1997 when it was still owned by John Menzies.

According to Waterstone, the then loss-making business now has an EBIT of£14.5 million on sales of£170 million.

Mike France said: 'We will be looking for turnaround opportunities, because that's what gets our juices flowing.' He and Ellis remain advisers to Early Learning Centre (ELC).

France, whose background is largely in fashion retailing, including Littlewoods and Bhs, said his next move would 'almost certainly' be in retail.

Waterstone and former Ocado joint managing director Nigel Robertson were in talks to buy ELC for seven months. The new owners will use ELC's infrastructure to leverage growth at Waterstone's five-store Daisy & Tom chain, which turns over£15 million.

ELC directly sources 85 per cent of product from the Far East via a Hong Kong office, compared with none at Daisy & Tom. Waterstone said ELC will become 'a little more elegant and a little more conservative', with a store revamp trial in the coming months.

Alka Bali, director of Close Brothers Corporate Finance, advisers to management and venture capital group 3i on the ELC deal, said corporate activity in the retail sector would continue 'as long as sentiment holds up'.