Jones Bootmaker, the British shoe retailer that once belonged to the Church’s group, is looking at unsolicited bids for a management buyout since Ken Bartle, the CEO, and his partner Peter Phillips are thinking of selling the company. Bartle, who bought the company with Phillips from the Prada group for a reported £17 million (€25m-$33m) in 2001, is now 74 years old and is keen to take a less active role in the business, although he insists that they are not marketing Jones for a sale. Vasek Jelineck, the company’s chief operating officer, and Alison Bennett, the merchandising director, have appointed Grant Thornton to advise them and help raise funds to buy the business. Both Jelineck and Bennett worked for Bartle at Ravel before moving with him to Jones Bootmaker.

At least two venture capitalist groups and one retailer have already expressed interest in taking over the company. A management buyout is thought to be the best option, since the company hopes to remain fairly independent. However, any complications or delays in raising finance could allow a third party to take advantage and step in.

Bartle will probably retain a small stake in the business. The retailer, which now has 75 stores, has seen its sales grow considerably since Bartle and Phillips spearheaded the deal to buy Jones Bootmaker from Prada in February 2001. The next annual results are expected to show a turnover of £56 million (€56m-$82m) and a pre-tax profit of £2.3 million (€3.3m-$4.4m). In addition, the group’s five Gordon Scott stores are climbing back into profit.

Jones' stores carry both private label and branded footwear. The men’s offer comprises on average 60 percent private label and 40 percent branded. Women’s shoes are on average 70 percent private label and 30 percent branded, while private label represents only 20 percent of children’s footwear range.

Jones Bootmaker is the last in a series of British footwear retail companies to be considering a sale, implying that they are hot property. Hobbs sold to 3i in November 2004 for £111 million (€162m-$212m); Faith sold to Bridgepoint Capital in December for £64 million (€93m-$122m); Shoe Studio Group bought Rubicon this February for £140 million (€204m-$268m); Stead & Simpson is conducting a review for a possible sale, and LK Bennett’s proposed sale has stalled since bids have fallen short of Linda Bennett’s valuation.