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UP Global Sourcing eyes overseas expansion as Britain tightens its belt

Unloved or distressed British brands are the former Ultimate Products' speciality
KItchenware is a staple of UP's catalogue

UP Global Sourcing Holdings PLC (LON:UPGS) specialises in what it calls British heritage brands.

Salter for example is 250 years old, Beldray 100 years and Progress almost ninety while latest acquisition Kleeneze dates back to 1923.

WATCH: UP Global keen to snap up lucrative UK supermarket home product spots

These are well-known names but were either unloved or distressed when we bought them, says UP managing director Andrew Gossage.

Another common thread is that UP generally buys them for a song.

Kleneeze cost £100,000, Progress £10,000 with a similar amount paid for luggage group Constellation, another UK household stalwart.

The stable also includes the distributing rights to Russell Hobbs products and headphones and speaker maker Intempo.

UP floated on the main market in March 2017, netting £52.6mln for a group of existing shareholders that included Gossage and chief executive Simon Showman.

'Squeezed middle'

Trading since the float has been tough, Gossage admits.

Changes to the way one large customer booked sales hit revenues, while UP’s target market of the ‘squeezed middle’ has been pushed even by harder by a combination of Brexit, sterling’s weakness and wage deflation.

That has meant the non-food items UP specialises such as kitchen equipment, kettles, music devices, vacuum cleaners and cleaning kit taking a smaller share of an already shrunk basket.

But resilience is feature of the business says Gossage and the company has already adapted its plans to cope with what remains a challenging UK environment.

Orders have picked up in the current year, especially from its international operation and expansion abroad is one of the ‘main pillars’ of the group’s long-term strategy.

A new showroom opened in Germany in April, while Gossage is also eyeing the Nordic region where he believes UP’s range of British brands might chime with the local populations.

International’s shares of revenues rose from 20% in the first half of the year to 37% by the end.

Online sales jump 52%

Online sales are another avenue that UP is starting to explore more.

Sales here rose 52% or to 7.9% of total group sales of £88mln in the year to July.

UP uses the major established online distribution channels for its sales, it is not an internet retailer.

Gossage says it will work to increase revenues through the big four supermarkets to offset the struggles in its core UK market, which also includes discount stores.

While Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose are customers, its presence in the largest groups is low.

Prices are pitched below the market leading brands in a way that the retailer can maintain an online margin even though it is selling a mass-market, branded consumer product.

More opportunities

Gossage believes the current tough market might offer up more brands, though these will likely be opportunistic deals – “three at once or none at all.”

The emphasis on mass market consumer goods will remain at the core on the business.

“We have to be low-cost to hit the price point of the everyday consumer.

“And we have to manage our overheads tightly and source our products very cost effectively.

“We acquire our brands in a cost-effective way as well as we really want to be mass-market.”

Orders improve

Christmas and Black Friday are important periods for the group and though Gossage says last year ended in a more promising fashion, “We’ll have to see where it goes,” is all he say about the rest of this year.

Numbers in the market suggest revenues will recover 10% this year to £97mln in the year to July 2019 albeit helped by a contribution from Kleeneze.

Underlying profits will be about £7.1mln, according to house researcher Equity Development, which would give earnings of 5.6p.

Gossage says one of the key strengths of the group is its product sourcing infrastructure, which should be something it can flex more effectively if it can develop the international and online operations.

UP Global pays out half of earnings as dividends so, on that basis, the forward yield at present is 6.1% which provides some support to the shares.

Equity Development expects sales to grow by 5% organically over the long term and if it can manage that, at 46p and compared to the float price of 128p there looks to be recovery potential as well.

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