Boats Group, the US-based $75m-revenue classified marketplace, has been majority sold by Apax Partners to Permira in a deal believed to be worth some $850m – four times what Apax is believed to have paid just four years ago.
The Florida company provides 4,000 boat brokers and dealers with “a comprehensive suite of technology-based marketing and software solutions, enabling them to effectively reach consumers, improve their overall profitability, and manage their operations”. Its key brands are: YachtWorld, Boat Trader, boats. com, Cosas De Barcos, Annonces du Bateau, and Botentekoop.
Boats Group employs 200 people, has customers everywhere, and advertises boats for sale in 143 countries. In 2018, over 140m visitors visited the company’s web sites, apps and social media outlets which are translated into 13 languages. It also provides high-value information services to its B2B members.
Apax had acquired the then UK-based company Dominion Marine Media in 2016 when revenue was some $40m with EBITDA of $16m. This year’s revenue is believed to be $75m but profit is some $40m, reflecting a margin increase from 35% in 2016 to more than 50% in 2020. More than 65% of the revenue is believed to come from 7,000 paying members. Some 80% of revenue comes from North America whose boat market is by far the world’s largest.
The deal echoes Apax’s IPO success with the UK’s AutoTrader in 2015, the year before it bought majority control of Boats Group. It had acquired AutoTrader from The Guardian and others for a valuation of c£1.5bn which more than trebled in the following seven years.
Apax recognised the similarities of the two classified markets, even though most used boats (unlike cars) are sold through intermediaries rather than direct to consumers. Apax also knew how the business of boats had been almost impervious to the 2008 economic downturn, growing slowly but consistently throughout the economic cycle.
As previously with AutoTrader, Apax pushed Boats Group to invest in platforms and technology.
Sure enough, the pandemic has had a negligible impact on trading, and web traffic is said to have increased by more than 25% in 2020. The ultimate discretionary purchase is, perversely, also the most resilient. Now you know why Apax decided not to shelve the Boats Group sell-off, even when Covid exploded.
In the way of these things, Permira may already have identified the next possible buyer. Nobody would be surprised if that is either Informa (which has a clutch of international boat events including the Monaco Yacht Show) or Future, now the UK’s leading publisher of marine magazine-media.