Long-established Grantham coach operator survives after investor steps in and staff persevere
A C Williams has been saved after a private investor stepped in to secure the future of the business, in a move which prompted celebrations from the 25 drivers, mechanics and office staff after learning their jobs were safe.
Established nearly 60 years ago in Ancaster, and despite a healthy demand for bookings, the firm’s future was threatened following the closure of its sister business in December, the A C Williams Renault car dealership. Now, the business has benefitted from a cash and management injection from investor Glen Pratt, who wants to save jobs by turning round small family-owned companies. He wants to build the business through employee profit sharing and the partnership principles which have proved so successful for John Lewis.
Asked by CBW why he was investing in a coach company, Mr Pratt replied: “The simple answer is A C Williams is a fundamentally good business with great potential. The parent business, which was the Renault car parts, had a turnover of £11m, while the bus and coach division revenue amounted to just over £1m, so it was a very small part of a big business. The parent company suffered from cash flow problems and the effects of the economic downturn last year.
“Begbies (the administrators) were going to close the coach business too until the employees pointed out the value of the contract work, which supports the future of the firm, and hence its viability. As a result Begbies tried to find a buyer.
“I have a close friend who works inside the business. She mentioned it over dinner, so I contacted the administrators for due diligence. My brother spent four days on site.
“The coaching side of A C Williams has been neglected because it was non-core business and had a very cautious attitude. The 20 vehicles include a top of the range Scania, yet every time I passed the yard, those coaches seemed to be parked up.”
Turning to the future, Mr Pratt said: “We’re going to increase fleet utilisation considerably. This year we’re doing 10 holidays, next year we’ll do 30 and 40 the following year.
“Also, the firm has never really advertised. We’re going to revamp the website and actively contact our 4,000-name database. I genuinely think the size of this business could double in a couple of years. I believe we’ll be taking on more drivers and increasing the size of the 10,000 square feet workshops. In time we’ll build two new workshops, which will allow us to expand the amount of third party bus and coach contract maintenance, while also allowing us to start HGV and car repairs. It’s been too sleepy but does have a terrific brand name.
“I believe it’s also important to keep the family association. Even while in administration, the business has won contracts, but naturally the holidays and day trips have suffered due to the uncertainty.”
As executive chairman of the company, Glen Pratt, a successful investment fund manager in London, will be keeping not just the A C Williams name, but the Williams’ involvement as well, with former directors David Williams and Alison Parker fulfilling non-managerial roles within the company. The family approach will be expanded, with David Pratt joining his brother Glen on the board as finance director.
Former MD David Williams said: “I am delighted jobs will be saved and the A C Williams name will continue, in what promises to be a bright future for the company.”
Peter Blair, a partner in the Nottingham office of corporate recovery specialists Begbies Traynor, was appointed joint administrator of A C Williams in December. He said: “We are pleased to have saved jobs and maintained important services in Lincolnshire. We are grateful for the support and tenacity of the A C Williams staff, and that we were able to retain those staff. We wish the new venture every success.”
Concluding, Mr Pratt said: “I’m very excited. The coach industry is a good business to be in. In the current economic climate, we as an industry need to shout more than ever about the benefits of coach travel. For example, we do day trips to London for £15 – it’s great value for money.”