Trade rumours, as yet unconfirmed, that Sowester Simpson-Lawrence, Europe's largest marine importer and distributor, is in financial difficulty were heightened yesterday as calls to the Poole, UK-based company were answered with the pre-recorded message saying that the company was "temporarily closed today"
Trade rumours, as yet unconfirmed, that Sowester Simpson-Lawrence, Europe’s largest marine importer and distributor, is in financial difficulty were heightened yesterday as calls to the Poole, UK-based company were answered with the pre-recorded message saying that the company was “temporarily closed today”. By 11.00 this morning, the message had been changed with the additional information: “we hope to open tomorrow (Thursday, October 11) at 08.30.”
According to unconfirmed reports Sowester’s financers, The Royal Bank of Scotland, venture capital group 3i and factoring company CMAC, met Sowester executives yesterday to decide the fate of the company. The outcome of that meeting and its implications for the fate of SSL have still to be disclosed.
The problems appear to have stemmed from the merger between Sowester and Simpson-Lawrence in August 2000 following the acquisition by Westco Holdings, Sowester’s holding company, of the distribution arm of Glasgow-based marine equipment manufacturer and distributor Clyde Shipping.
According to industry sources Sowester has been delaying payments to creditors and has sent letters out to its clients apologising for the drop in its level of service since the merger with Simpson -Lawrence. The company is still wrestling with the mammoth task of amalgamating what were the UK’s two largest marine equipment distributors into one streamlined company. “We have deliberately been going slowly but surely putting the two together,” Sowester’s managing director John Buck told our sister trade magazine, IBI, following the Southampton boat show as the magazine was gathering information for its UK Business Report (IBI, November 2001 issue). “It has caused us a few problems to say the least.”
A year ago SSL closed down its call centre in the old Simpson-Lawrence facility in Glasgow and switched all sales over to Sowester’s own operation in Poole. Then this July it closed the S-L warehouse near Fareham and amalgamated stock into the main warehousing in Poole. The latter job has caused the most problems, particularly in IT terms, as over 100,000 items of S-L stock had to be physically moved and entered on to a new Sowester system.
The other big job for the company that is still on-going is the amalgamation of catalogues. When a new combined catalogue is published in early spring next year, it is likely to contain no fewer than 25,000 items and over 800 pages. That will make it not only Europe’s biggest marine equipment catalogue, but also one of the world’s top three, the other two being the West Marine and Land ‘n’ Sea product books produced in the US.
Owned by directors John Buck and Robert Edmond, who are backed by institutional finance, SSL now employs around 165 people, although John Buck says that the fighting weight is probably nearer 150.
Turnover is now in excess of £30 million. Of that direct chandlery exports account for around 10 per cent.
More news of further developments as they happen.