Hills step up to the plate

Hills Numberplate Holdings Limited has strengthened its position in the UK and global number plate market following a round of investment from private and trade contacts. The UK’s largest manufacturer and distributor of number plates is looking forward to an exciting year ahead after gaining additional investment to help support its diversification into new and innovative markets.

The professional advice in respect of the investment was provided to Hills by Friend LLP and Shoosmiths.

Hills employs over 60 people at its Birmingham-based plant and has been a leading global player in the plastic number plate market for over 30 years. Hills is the acknowledged UK market leader in both size, technology and innovation and is the only number plate manufacturer in the UK that is able to offer full production facilities, from the conversion of acrylic and substrate raw materials to the manufacture of finished number plates ready for attachment to vehicles.

As testament to its innovation, Hills has a history of patent registration on production techniques and products, many of which are combined within their Hiltek product. The Hiltek product offers significant quality improvement and cost reduction in comparison to standard production methods. The company has also found a highly effective way of combating the ever increasing threat of number plate theft through the patented Secureplate brand; the first brand in the world to meet the DVLA approved anti-theft standard.

To best support the growing success of these patented products, and to help fund a programme of expansion into Europe and the Far East, Hills required additional investment. The company felt that private and trade investors would be the most appropriate to help achieve the goals of the company, and to cement existing relationships within the market.

Richard Taffinder, the Managing Director of Hills said: “With the issues that have faced the automotive sector in the last two years, Hills have invested in exploiting unique IP solutions in emerging foreign markets; a strategy that has helped reduce the impact of the recession. We saw an opportunity to significantly increase our global licence plate profile by pooling resource with investors that are involved in the same trade but different market sectors. “To attract this investment, our advisors were asked to independently review the current trading and legal status of the Hills group and potential areas of opportunity. In doing this, Hills were able to demonstrate real value within the company, which gave significant confidence to the new investors and existing stakeholders.”

As financial advisors to Hills, it was the role of Friend LLP to thoroughly review and assess the existing business, and to develop an independent set of financial forecasts and business plan upon which the proposed investors and Venture Finance (the current providers of Hills’ working capital funding) could rely. Through working closely with Hills, it became clear to Friend’s advising team of Denise Friend and Georgina Clark, that Hills was a promising business with a great deal of potential in a changing market place.

Denise Friend, corporate finance partner at Friend LLP, added: “Given the recent economic issues in the automotive sector, the degree of innovation and flexible approach to the market demonstrated by the team at Hills is refreshing. They realised some time ago that the number plate market in the UK was becoming somewhat stagnant and devalued and have taken highly innovative steps to commoditise their products, with considerable success.

“The new investors are obviously able to see Hills for what it is; a business with a great history, niche market position and fantastic innovation and expansion potential.” Throughout the process, Hills had been supported by solicitors, Alastair Peet and John Finnemore, of Shoosmiths.

Corporate partner Peet said: “We’ve invested more than a year’s worth of hard work and technical expertise into finalising this particular project due to its complicated structural nature, and we’re more than delighted with the result. “We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Hills, who’ve been a client of ours for the last three years, and we look forward to further enhancing this relationship in the future.” In addition to Hills’ legal and financial advisors, Venture Finance demonstrated strong support for Hills throughout the process, and welcomed the opportunity to support the business with ongoing working capital facilities.

Alison Small, Managing Director of the North Division of Venture Finance plc commented: “We have been delighted to extend our support to Hills at a time when the automotive sector has been undergoing its challenges. Rather than taking a “one size fits all” sector approach we took time to understand the particular challenges and opportunities facing Hills. Clear information is key to this process and the open approach of the directors together with the input of Friend LLP has been invaluable in ensuring that all parties are fully briefed and in tune with the company’s future plans. We very much look forward to being part of the company’s success in the coming years”.

Richard Taffinder concluded: “We are delighted that with the help of our advisors and funders, Hills has managed to secure this additional investment, with a group of investors who clearly share Hills’ excitement for the prospects that the near future holds.”

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