How to do a buy and build featuring TCL Group

TCL Group is a master of creating and maintaining outdoor spaces of all shapes and sizes. The BGF-backed company works with housebuilders, local authorities and heritage estates across the UK, offering a wide range of services from landscape design to estate management to playground installation.

“There’s no such thing as a typical project here,” says CEO Simon Cashmore. “Whether it’s a shopping centre for CBRE or managing the Formula One factory in Northampton for Mercedes Benz, every day we’re doing interesting things for interesting people.”

Cashmore joined the business in 2007, when he was backed by private equity group Caledonia in a management buy-out of the business.

“I saw an opportunity to bring a ‘buy and build’ strategy to the business,” he explains. “TCL had a small range of services but I wanted to extend the portfolio. I knew clients would buy more from us because we were already doing a great job for them with the core business.”

His hunch was quickly proven right. When Cashmore took over, TCL turned over £5.5m and was primarily a regional business. Today, it generates revenues of more than £45m, with six operating hubs across the country.

Its clients still include big name developers like Barratt Homes, Persimmon Homes and Redrow Homes. But it also works with and managing agents such as Jones Lang LaSalle, CBRE and Savills.

Cashmore has overseen five strategic acquisitions to take the business into new and lucrative markets.

TCL is now the proud owner of Surrey-based G. Burley & Sons, one of just two grounds maintenance businesses in the UK to hold a royal warrant. It also acquired Arbscapes to secure landscape contracting business, and bought estate management business, Clean Estates. But it was TCL’s purchase of Admiral Play to get into the playground building business that was the big game-changer, according to Cashmore.

“Under the labour government, Gordon Brown had invested £220m into Play England, a government quango looking for aesthetically appealing, 3D playgrounds,” he says. “We refitted the business quite quickly to that market.”

TCL is now the UK’s leading playground design and installation specialist in a fragmented market. Last year, the team completed almost 400 playground installations, from local authority parks to new builds.

Three of the five acquisitions – Burleys, ALS and Playforce – came after BGF’s growth capital investment in the company. Having first invested £10m in May 2014, BGF provided further funding to support TCL’s acquisition strategy and now has more than £15m invested in the business.

Having secured national coverage, international markets beckon for the company. “We’ve been involved in some design projects for Dubai but we’ve never actively sought work overseas,” says Cashmore. “That time may well come.”

Cashmore, a trained chartered accountant and father of two, has always wanted to build businesses. He left a promising career as a managing director at listed insurance firm RAC to take charge of a business in a completely unfamiliar sector.

“I’d had a career selling intangible things,” he explains. “I left my secure job and gave myself 12 months to find a deal and put together a strategy.”

He fell in love with TCL – then called Tony Cox Landscapes – because of its craftsmanship. “We start with empty pieces of ground, which we transform, not just for tomorrow but for the long term,” he explains.

Cashmore spends most of his time on the move these days, travelling around the country. Working from TCL’s regional hubs helps him to keep on top of individual projects and he is still actively involved in most of the bids that come into the company.

In total, TCL has secured more than £15m in growth finance from BGF.

This blog post based on an article written by Rebecca Burn-Callander for BGF’s 2014 Portfolio magazine