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Palmers duo welcome new shareholder as they seek to extend 'think big' plan

Friday 15th June 2018

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Kevin Brewer, an Auckland-based business consultant, has provided a cash injection to the Palmers Gardenworld chain, taking a stake in its brands and franchise businesses for an undisclosed sum.

Brewer, a former SkyCity executive whose other roles include being chair of the Auckland-based Anglican Trust for Women and Children, has acquired 25 new shares apiece, or 20 percent, in Palmers Gardenworld Brands and Palmers Franchise Systems. He couldn't immediately be reached for comment and Palmers doesn't disclose financial information.

He joins existing shareholders Geoffrey Macrae and Keith Routledge at Palmers, which describes itself as New Zealand's foremost garden retail chain, with 14 North Island centres listed on its website. The Trade Me auction site currently has three listings related to Palmers properties, a cafe at the Tauranga outlet listed at $299,000, the New Plymouth Palmers and Botannix Cafe listed at $695,000 and touting a $200,000 net return, and a new jumbo store development in Petone, Wellington due to open in August for $1.75 million or separate offers for the garden centre and cafe.

Petone is a 'Palmers Planet' super-store, a format that has had a patchy history. Stuff reported in April last year that the St James Palmers Planet in Hamilton went into liquidation along with its owner in 2015 while the flagship Palmers Planet in Albany went into liquidation with the franchisee owing more than $2 million to almost 200 creditors. In both instances, the franchisor bought back the premises and continued to operate.

According to the first liquidation report for the Hamilton store owner, Deblen Limited Partnership, the partners injected significant funds to get the business operational but there were delays in opening and significant losses were incurred from the start, "which meant that the business was never viable" and it was sold back to the franchisor.

Palmers Albany promotes itself as a family experience destination of eating at a licensed cafe and retailing of garden products, gifts, flowers and spa pools. The New Plymouth business advertised on Trade Me gives contact details for United Franchise Systems, another company owned by Macrae and Routledge.

Rod de Vries, general manager of Palmers Franchise Systems, said that Brewer had first approached Palmers.

"Kevin recently submitted a proposal to invest in the company. While Geoff and Keith, the existing partners, were not looking for new capital or a partner, they have enjoyed working with Kevin over the last three years and believe his experience will help grow the company," de Vries said in emailed replies to questions. Brewer has been chairman of an advisory board for the franchise business for the past three years.

De Vries declined to say how much was invested but indicated some of the funds would be used for developments. "Palmers is expanding its successful new concept store into Wellington, with the new Petone store programmed to open in early August."

Brewer was previously an independent director of Turners (now Turners Automotive Products) for three years up until September 2015 and was an executive at Wendy's New Zealand. He invested in Palmers via Arusha Investments.

"Kevin brings a background of general management experience in large corporates and franchisee operations, together with a track record of sound corporate governance," de Vries said.

Companies Office records show that shares of existing shareholding vehicle, Thorne Bay Investments, was divided in two, with new shareholder Gaze Burt Trustees 16 appearing. Gaze Burt is an Auckland-based law firm with a number of such trustee companies including one related to Routledge's holding in Palmers.

Palmers tracks its roots back to a plant nursery started by AW Palmer in 1912 but the first modernised garden centre didn't appear at the Glen Eden site until 1958, according to the website.



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