3i exits Early Learning Centre

Eagle Retail Investments has acquired Early Learning Centre, the children’s toy chain from its management and 3i for £62m in a secondary buyout transaction. 3i bought the business from John Menzies in September 2001 for around £29.6m.

Partners in Eagle Retail Investments include Rhône Capital LLC, a transatlantic mid-market private equity firm and DC Thomson & Co, the Scottish publishing group.

Eagle Retail has simultaneously acquired Chelsea Stores Limited, owner of the Daisy & Tom retail outlets. The acquired businesses will be merged, but the two distinctive brands will be maintained and developed separately. Chelsea Stores was set up by Tim Waterstone, founder of the bookshop with the same name and he will run the new combined group with Nigel Robertson, former joint MD of online retailer Ocado.

DC Thomson and Rhône Capital have each invested £16m of new money in the deal. Bank of Scotland has provided £35m debt finance.

Graham Miller of 3i, said: “This investment has been an outstanding success. Mike France, Peter Ellis and their team have done a superb job in turning ELC around and restoring a leading retail brand. We wish Tim Waterstone and his colleagues every success with the business.”