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Whitehouse named Kent's highest flier

Whitehouse Group has been named Kent's largest private company in a survey by the media business Kent Messenger Group.

The 2003 AM retailer of the year – No 23 in the AM100 – was also the 29th fastest growing business in the county with 62.7% growth over the period 2000-2003.

That follows a two-year buying spree, which has seen turnover rise from £188m in 2000 to £306m in 2003, and outlets from 24 to 41.

This year, Whitehouse intends to consolidate its position, possibly picking up a couple of new sites, but mostly concentrating investment on upgrading existing facilities to meet demanding franchise requirements.

Next year it will start making further acquisitions, targeting 50 outlets and turnover approaching £400m.

“I believe most of the industry consolidation will happen over the next 12-24 months as a result of the location clause,” says Pat Conway, Whitehouse chief executive. “Most plcs have a buffer against expansion this year because of the VAT claims against Customs & Excise, but they will need to start satisfying shareholder's demands for growth next year.”

Conway suggests expansion might be led by retailers opening approved repairer outlets in rival areas, from which they could eventually introduce car sales. “I'm sure that's not something the carmakers have thought about,” he adds.

For its own part, Whitehouse steadfastly has the 'not for sale' signs up. Chairman Brian Whitehouse, who owns the bulk of the shares, many in a trust fund, employs several family members and has no intention of cashing in from selling the business, according to Conway.

“If Brian sold the business, that would be a one-off reward; if the money was put in the bank it might make 2% a year,” he says. “But by keeping it within the motor group he can make a 22% return. It makes financial sense as well as offering family security.”

n Barretts of Canterbury is the 12th fastest growing private company in Kent with turnover up 107% to £88m, while Beadles Group, AM retailer of the year 2004, is 14th, up 93% to £117m.

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