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A launchpad for growth – how an IPO has boosted Unbound Group plc’s transformation plans

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Jack Hird

March 4th, 2022

A launchpad for growth – how an IPO has boosted Unbound Group plc’s transformation plans

With its digital transformation already underway, using an IPO as a vehicle to unlock value and drive forward a strategy for further growth seemed like the right opportunity. Dan Lampard, Unbound Group’s CFO, and Bod Buckby, Head of UK Primary Markets in the North at the London Stock Exchange, discuss the planning, process and the potential the IPO has presented for this dynamic business.

 

Unbound Group recently launched on AIM underpinned by the key trading brand Hotter Shoes – so beginning the business’ next chapter of growth. The process of digital transformation that led the company to this point has been some time in the making.

Hotter Shoes began life in 1959 before undergoing a period of rapid expansion, eventually trading through more than 100 retail stores. But changes to the retail landscape, compounded by the effects of the pandemic, inspired a new strategic approach says Dan Lampard, Chief Financial Officer, Unbound Group.

“It accelerated the need for digital transformation. As a result, we scaled back the number of stores to 17, alongside seven garden centre concessions. That was followed by a huge switch from offline to online – effectively creating an online business from nothing. Now, over 75% of the business’ revenue is from online channels.”

Unlocking value

It’s not just the sales model that’s shifted to digital channels. Technology is also being used to personalise the footwear service, creating a bespoke offering that’s particularly appealing to Hotter’s core demographic of over-55s, and rebranding the stores as ‘Technology Centres.’

It’s a customer segment where the business sees huge potential value and one of the key motivations behind the IPO, explains Dan. “We have a very loyal, active customer base in the over-55s, who are under-served and where we could see huge opportunity from an online perspective. The IPO was one of a number of options, but we could see that it could unlock the inherent value in the business, which could help us realise that opportunity and fuel that next stage of growth.”

It’s this driving factor that set this listing apart, says Bod Buckby, Head of UK Primary Markets, North, at the London Stock Exchange. “Sometimes a company will choose an IPO to deliver a change of ownership or bring in new capital. In this case, the intention was more about using the public markets as a platform to launch the wider Unbound strategy. Ongoing and efficient access to equity markets through AIM also enables companies to raise capital for innovation, potential acquisitions and pursue their growth strategies.”

A rollercoaster process

With Dan only joining the business at the end of August 2021, it was very much a case of hitting the ground running as the business mobilised towards its listing date just five months later. “It was straight onto that rollercoaster of the whole IPO process,” he says. “In the second week after I joined, for example, I was presenting our capital markets presentation.”

The strength of the existing finance function and a disciplined approach to the timescales, as well as the support of external advisers well-versed in the process, were crucial to achieving the listing.

“Working to the listing point at the end of January, we had a number of milestones that had to be hit,” says Dan. “At the same time as doing all the necessary steps to move through the IPO process, we were refinancing while making sure the business continued to plan as usual. It was a huge amount of work.

“The process required discipline and focus, and it was a case of really immersing myself in it as quickly as possible. Working closely with our external advisors helped us get up to speed with the reporting, accounting, and legal aspects of the IPO. A huge part of the success was due to the team I inherited and the robustness of the existing finance function.”

A platform for growth

Shares in Unbound Group began trading on 1st February 2022 and the business is full steam ahead with its plans for the next chapter in its growth story. This will see Hotter Shoes become the main business within a larger online retail platform, Unbound, and the digitisation that has transformed the business is set to continue.

“We’ll be launching the Unbound Group website later this year, which will feature a number of curated partners relevant to our age demographic and who can add value to our customers,” says Dan. “The overriding aim is that the brands we curate resonate around that vision of allowing people to do more of what they love.”

There’s certainly scope for growth he explains, citing ONS data showing that the 55+ demographic is a high growth opportunity for online usage. “In the pandemic, that whole shift to online accelerated and the business very quickly pivoted to meet that demand. There’s clearly a huge gap in the market and the IPO will allow us to pursue that opportunity more easily.”

Jack Hird

Director, CFO Practice

jh@draxexecutive.com

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