Aramark to bring Avoca abroad with the Pratts in tow

Quitting their jobs to start selling textiles proved a good move by the Pratt family

Monique and Simon Pratt in Avoca Kilmacanogue: the family has sold the business, begun in a mill in Avoca, for more than €60 million. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Monique and Simon Pratt in Avoca Kilmacanogue: the family has sold the business, begun in a mill in Avoca, for more than €60 million. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

Simon Pratt, managing director of the hitherto family-owned Avoca Handweavers and the son of its founders, was 10 when he first saw the old Wicklow mill the chain started from.

Donald Pratt, who founded Avoca with his wife Hillary in the 1970s, was a solicitor who “did not want to be one forever”, according to Simon. He was speaking this week after the family agreed to sell it to the listed catering group Aramark for more than €60 million.

“The mill was for sale and my dad was there on behalf of his client who owned it. I went along with him. My father thought it was a great location and said, don’t sell. The reply was, if he thought it was so great, he should buy it. So he did.”

Cash in on recovery

Four decades on, the group comprises 11 upscale cafes and luxury goods stores. It is highly profitable with sales of more than €60 million – 80 per cent food – and is growing strongly as Irish consumers rediscover their predilection for luxury.

Avoca, more than any other mid-sized indigenous retailer, is primed to cash in on Ireland’s surging economic comeback. It now also has the clout to go abroad.

Avoca’s soon-to-be-new owner, Aramark, a US-listed group that employs more than 160,000 people in 22 countries, does not at first appear a natural buyer. But Donal O’Brien, Ireland chief executive of Aramark, says it will finance an expansion of Avoca while mining valuable data about consumer trends from the Irish company for use around the wider Aramark group.

Until the deal gets competition clearance – a formality as there is little overlap in Ireland between Avoca and Aramark – the chain remains owned by Donald and Hillary Pratt and their four children.

Three of them – Simon, Ivan and Vanessa – still work in the business and will stay on to work for Aramark. Amanda, responsible for much of its design flair, left last December.

Simon said it was “pretty much decided” to sell Avoca almost a year ago. A newspaper interview in which he said it would not be passed on to the next generation of the family sparked a flood of interest from potential buyers.

UK and US

DublinBeltrae

O’Brien, who says Avoca will operate independently within Aramark to protect the brand, says it will finance an expansion in Ireland over the next two years. Cork, Waterford and Limerick are on its list, as well as a possibly a new Dublin city centre flagship. Next stop is the UK, where it will open a cluster of major stores and a bakery around London.

After that, it may target the lucrative US market. O’Brien said Aramark is particularly interested in gaining insights into Avoca’s food business, which could give it ideas for its corporate catering clients.

It will also expand Avoca’s event-catering arm, with a possibility that the brand could be used for event management for some upscale clients of its new parent.

“We will also bring it overseas. This could be the first authentic Irish dining experience to be brought abroad. That will give huge opportunities for its artisanal suppliers,” said O’Brien.

“Avoca is Irish, but our research says the concept could be applied anywhere.”

The Pratts, newly minted millionaires, look set to stay on board for the next phase of the journey.

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