Graham: Sykes Holiday Cottages is one of the UK’s largest vacation rental businesses or holiday home companies. We look after 15,500 properties in the UK. We also look after 2,000 properties in New Zealand as well.
Daniel: Livingbridge has had a lot of success in online travel as a sector. We were looking for other parts of the travel market where we could deploy the things that we’d learnt in those businesses, and that’s when we came across Sykes.
Clive: The business grew over a period of 15-20 years, and it got to a size and scale where we knew that we were getting to a point of our limit.
Michael: Clive grew the business phenomenally, and got it to a point where it was right for another investor to come in and take the next level of risk with the business.
Daniel: You had a business with great momentum already. What’s been really valuable to Sykes has been the network that we have in the online travel world, and the skills that we have within Livingbridge, which have helped them to build the best business in their market.
Graham: Livingbridge has helped Sykes build out the senior team, utilising a number of people who they worked with before and bringing them into the portfolio, either as non-executives, chairmen or they’re leveraging them to hire the executive team. They say the fuel for a business is its stock, but really the real fuel for a business is people.
Daniel: Livingbridge has a team of five people. They help our investee companies to acquire other businesses. In their early days, Sykes leaned heavily on that team. We mapped their market for potential acquisition targets, and identified 100. With the Sykes team, we prioritised those, and approached the top 10. At that point, the Sykes team engaged and did all the due diligence in the work. Over the course of the last two years, Sykes has made 11 acquisitions. They’ve built their own capability internally so they lead on all of the M&A activity.
Graham: In April this year, we made an acquisition in New Zealand, a business called Bachcare. Bachcare do similar work to what we do – they look after 2,000 holiday homes across New Zealand. This was a market leader, so they had 35% market share. It was a number one provider. We’re using it as a springboard to not only grow that business in New Zealand, but also to grow the opportunity across Australia and New Zealand. When Livingbridge invested, it is fair to say that we were doing more traditional marketing. They helped us hire talent, and they brought in a non-executive who they’d worked with before. That allowed us to understand how we unlock the digital capabilities within the organisation. It’s been incredibly successful. This year, we’ll take 1.5 million people on holiday. When Livingbridge invested, the marketing team had three people. Today, it has 54 people. We’re probably one of the most advanced digital marketing businesses in the UK.
Daniel: When we first invested in Sykes, the nature of the deal that we did was really enabling Clive Sykes, the founder of the business, to step back from being the majority shareholder in the business. He’s still on the board, and he is a super valuable member of the board. What Clive is fantastic at is putting himself in the position of the owner of all the properties, providing the voice of the owner around the board table.
Clive: I help give that continuity for the business. I’m still part of the journey, and that’s the important thing.
Graham: When the business was invested in, we had under 200 people working for us, and we had 5,500 properties. Over the 4 year period, we now have 650 people working for us, we’ve made 11 acquisitions, we have moved the business into international through the support of Livingbridge, and we now have 17,500 properties that we exclusively look after.
Daniel: They win prizes for the quality of their team, and for the satisfaction of their employees. They are way ahead of their market in terms of their technology and the way that they use data. It’s really a fantastic business.
Graham: Working with Livingbridge has been brilliant. I’ve really genuinely enjoyed it. They’ve been really supportive. It’s great to have a wider network of teams that we can plug into, and I guess the results speak for themselves in terms of how we’re growing this business to be one of the market leaders.