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A Cashflow Solution Builds Brands For All Seasons
A poor relationship with its previous bank was stifling potential for outdoor clothing company Equip Outdoor Technologies. Santander’s fresh approach to seasonal cashflow issues led to a new purchase and annual growth of 30%
- Company turnover: almost £40 million
- Sector: Manufacturing
- Equip is a manufacturer and distributor of outdoor clothing. It owns the Lowe Alpine and Rab brands.
- Its incumbent bank’s inflexibility was cramping the company’s growth potential, so Equip looked elsewhere.
- Santander increased the amounts of Equip's trade and invoice finance facility so that, in conjunction with a private equity deal, Equip was able to purchase Lowe Alpine and fund the increased growth and sales it would bring. This was combined with invoice finance to help bridge the payment gap between ordering stock and taking payments from customers.
- Equip was able to double its turnover through organic growth and by acquiring the iconic Lowe Alpine brand.
- Equip now enjoys a turnover of £35 million and an annual growth of 30% which the company plans to sustain by growing its already successful brands.
Equip got its start when CEO Matt Gowar started selling cold weather accessories. He sold on behalf of other brands before moving on to his own brand. Having imported and sold its first range in 1993, the business grew steadily until the Rab brand came up for sale a decade later.
“The first ten years were hard work,” explains Matt, “I have no formal business training and learned from my mistakes. The Rab opportunity came at the right time; any earlier and I couldn’t have bought it.”
With growth steady and the Rab brand incorporated into the business, Equip pushed forward. In 2003, it had sales of £2.2 million and 18 staff members. But it was soon apparent that the business had outgrown its incumbent banking partner and the relationship had become a brake on growth.
“They didn’t understand the business. We had a suite of facilities with them, including trade finance, foreign exchange and invoice discounting, but they weren’t prepared to extend these to help us buy and sell more stock,” says Matt.
To the management team, Equip’s bank did not seem interested in helping it realise its ambitions. “Banks should want to help customers to grow because they grow too, but this one didn’t,” Matt adds.
Researching new services
So in 2010, Equip sought the services of a new bank. After researching various options, the team decided to meet with Santander.
Santander was able to match the banking package of the incumbent and add the all-important promise to fuel Equip’s ambitions.
“From the very beginning they said, ‘We’re behind you’ and that made all the difference. Having Santander backing us proved to the world we were a solid proposition.”
The new purchase
Matt Gowar and his team had their eye on Lowe Alpine, a poorly managed brand with potential. When the business finally fell into administration, Equip found private equity and was quick to prepare a bid.
Equip secured the business in an auction process, along with all of the firm’s liabilities, including jaded and unpaid suppliers. Yet cycles in the industry are such that it would be two years before Lowe Alpine could produce its first fresh line of clothing and accessories and it needed an increase in working capital to do so.
Investing in the team
“Santander increased the working capital facilities instantly,” says Equip Financial Director Ryan Bennett. “It’s an asset-backed loan but it was still a risk given Lowe Alpine’s position at the time. The bank basically backed us based on our track record. They were investing in the management team.”
Matt adds: “We had the existing facilities, but the working capital was just about enough for Rab, so we needed to expand the package to incorporate the needs of Lowe Alpine. The nature of the auction meant we needed to ramp up almost overnight, because we had a list of suppliers we suddenly needed to pay.”
According to the pair, Santander, personified by Equip’s relationship director Jon Bennett, acts more like a strategic partner than a bank, advising on financial matters and responding quickly.
“Equip’s working capital cycle is very cash-intensive so they need lots of money to continue their growth rate,” says Jon Bennett. “The old bank was putting a sticking plaster on it with short-term advances, but we introduced an integrated solution using trade and invoice finance which suits them much better.”
Equip pays the manufacturer in China as soon as the product is shipped, at which point Santander advances the business cash; when the goods arrive and are distributed, the money advanced to Equip to pay for stock is automatically paid back via invoice finance – a significant cut to administrative requirements.
Ryan Bennett adds: “With the two facilities working seamlessly, we can grow without having to worry about the finance. What’s quite neat is that we have a £14 million group facility and the bank gives us freedom to work within that as we need it.
“Because of the seasonal nature of the business," Ryan explains, "65% of sales happen in autumn and winter, that product ships in the summer – and we have up to £10 million of stock on a boat that, without Santander, we cannot pay for, so we need Jon to pull out all the stops and finance it.”
Now and in the future
“Santander have helped us to grow both within the Rab product line and by purchasing a new business,” adds Matt. “There’s enough to worry about in a business, but one area that we don’t feel we have to worry about is our relationship with our bank. We know that if we make good decisions, they will back us.”
Today, Equip enjoys a turnover of £35 million and the future is all about re-establishing Lowe Alpine as a leading clothing brand for walkers and hikers, while maintaining Rab as a go-to product line for ‘top-of-the-mountain’ climbing enthusiasts; as well as sustaining the brand’s 30% annual growth.
Equip’s managers are confident they can make this happen, especially now they know there’s a bank behind them that trusts their decisions and will react positively to any considered expansion plans.