The Laxey offensive has angered analysts, who believe Williams is doing a good job of modernising Wyevale. Just a few weeks ago, Wyevale unveiled findings of its strategic review. The upshot is that the garden centre group is adopting many of the disciplines that its counterparts in other retail sectors have regarded as standard practice for years.
Although specialists such as Wyevale and Dobbies have been growing, the market is fragmented and grocers and DIY groups are seizing the opportunity. According to Wyevale's research, the DIY boys already control 35 per cent of the market. Specialists' share slipped from 32 per cent to 29 per cent between 2000 and last year. Cue the introduction of the Wyevale Way - the retailer's initiative to maintain its position and grow. It means bigger outlets, improved shopability and better service.
Despite Laxey's disruptive coup attempt, the fund admits it has no better ideas to improve performance, but would drive change through more quickly. It is an unconvincing argument and other investors, such as Hermes Fund Management, are backing the Wyevale board in the confrontation.
While this row has been raging, Wyevale has received potential takeover approaches. However, the word is that DIY giants B&Q, GUS-owned Homebase and private equity-backed Focus are all unlikely to bid. That would leave the way open for venture capitalists to swoop. Apax and Bridgepoint have been put into the frame already by the proverbial 'sources close to the situation'.
The internal warfare at Wyevale must surely make a takeover more likely and the interesting thing will be to see which retail managers work with the private equity firms. Surely the situation will not have escaped the attention of Sir Geoff Mulcahy and Jim Hodkinson, both pivotal in the creation of B&Q as a DIY powerhouse. Each is the sort of person who might relish to repeat that success in a different, but related, retail sector where no single player has dominance.
Fashion retailers sourcing from China face a problem, with the drying up of quotas on various clothing categories. This has thrown plans into turmoil for store groups hoping to take full advantage of the lower prices hoped for when trade barriers came down.
But retailers have been guilty of complacency. The decision to limit Chinese textile exports to the EU was taken after intensive lobbying by manufacturers elsewhere. Retailers did not make their voice heard effectively and are now paying the price - literally. Ferocious competition among store groups often means that common interest is sacrificed for individual advantage. Now, as quotas dry up, many retailers will suffer as they search desperately for replacement sources of supply.
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