Freshfields completes Unwins acquisition deal for Threshers

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

has landed a role advising drinks retailer Thresher Group on its purchase of 200 stores from the collapsed Unwins chain.

The deal was completed at breakneck speed before the Christmas break, taking just 36 hours from start to finish. Threshers then made the most of its acquisition, reopening half the stores soon after the Christmas break to take advantage of the New Year trade.

Although the consideration was small – Terra Firma Capital Partners, the owner of Threshers, paid £10m for the 200 outlets – the deal was conducted under the media spotlight. The purchase leaves the administrators with around 150 shops still up for grabs, with the bid deadline approaching as The Lawyer went to press.

Freshfields scooped the work thanks to an existing client relationship with Terra Firma. Previous deals handled by the firm include representing the private equity house on the £453m acquisition of UK water and gas utility East Surrey Holdings.

As first reported on (23 December), DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary won an instruction to advise KPMG Corporate Recovery, which was brought in by Unwins’ owners, DM Private Equity.

KPMG immediately decided to shut all 350 outlets with the loss of around 1,400 jobs.

Commentators have been predicting a raft of retail insolvencies in 2006, but Freshfields corporate recovery partner Ken Baird described the process as a restructuring of retail. “There won’t be fewer stores on the high street,” he says, “but we’re seeing balance sheets being recycled as assets change hands.” Real estate partner Annette Byron also advised on the deal.

DLA Piper restructuring partner Simon Neilson-Clark represented KPMG, assisted by Seamus Gray.