Sale of Hickey’s makes for a happy birthday for founder

Uniphar buying pharmacy chain set up in 1995 and largely based in greater Dublin area

As birthday presents go, the sale of your business in a multimillion euro deal must rank among the best.

Paddy Hickey, who celebrates his 51st birthday on Thursday, and his family are in for a considerable payday from the sale of the Hickey's independent pharmacy chain to Uniphar.

It is understood that the overall value of the deal could eventually amount to as much as €60 million. While not all of that is payable upfront, it is understood that most of it will be.

Mr Hickey who shares a Rathgar, Dublin address with listed ultimate shareholder Áine Hickey (50), established the pharmacy that bears his family name in 1995.

Having opened its first outlet in the Northside Shopping Centre in August 1995 and its second pharmacy just one month later, Hickey’s has grown rapidly in recent years with 15 stores opening in the last four years alone.

It now operates 36 stores around the State, and has plans to expand to 60 outlets by 2022.

The chain, which is still largely focused on the greater Dublin area, recorded revenues of €27.2 million for the 12 months ending February 28th, 2019, with an operating profit of €2.4 million.

The group had net liabilities of €25.2 million at that point, down from €36.5 million a year earlier.

Rent row

It has not all been plain sailing for the company despite enjoying plenty of success. Earlier this year it was reported that Hickey’s had got into a rent row with property giant Hines over its flagship Grafton Street store. Mr Hickey reportedly wrote to politicians to describe Hines as being “reminiscent of 19th-century rack-renting landlords”.

It has also found itself in the courts a number of times. In mid-2017, it went head-to-head with the Health Service Executive over payments for dispensing fees. The HSE had alleged it was owed between €5 million and €7 million from the Hickey pharmacy group for non-compliance with dispensing rules between June 2011 and August 2016 in a case that was settled at the Commercial Court.

In 2014, the company challenged the inclusion of €45 million of its loans in a wider IBRC portfolio and was successful.

The sale to Irish group Uniphar represents a good deal for Hickey’s but the buyer will also be happy. It will add 36 community pharmacies to Uniphar’s existing network, increasing its retail pharmacy network to 335 and leaving it among the biggest Irish players.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist