5th November 2020

Comms Design acquired by Unipart

The Yorkshire & North East corporate finance team of Dow Schofield Watts has advised Comms Design on its sale to Unipart Rail, the rail division of Unipart Group. The transaction followed an international marketing of the company to strategic trade parties.

Comms Design acquired by Unipart

Comms Design is based in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and is a high-tech design and manufacturing company specialising in electronic products primarily for the rail industry. The business has market leading expertise in in-cab Radio Electronic Token Block (“RETB”) signalling systems which represent a credible and competitive solution for the single-track routes that make up the bulk of rail infrastructure in many countries.

Comms Design has been a highly regarded and trusted partner of Network Rail for more than 14 years. Meeting stringent Network Rail safety and quality standards, RETB is available for a much lower capital investment than traditional signalling systems and has considerable international potential.

Comms Design will join a growing portfolio of digital businesses, products and services in the £800m turnover Unipart Group, strengthening its reputation for innovation and service. As a result of the acquisition both businesses will be able to access new markets and continue to develop and expand product ranges in the UK and overseas.

Unipart has a strong track record of developing entrepreneurial companies by providing the help and support to enable them to grow without the constraining corporate procedures of many large organisations that can be seen as stifling, particularly to digital companies.

Dr Paul Clark will remain as Managing Director of Comms Design, working with David McGorman, Managing Director, Technology Companies, Unipart Technology Group. The cultural fit between the two companies was an important factor in the acquisition.

“It was extremely important that we found a parent company with the same passion for the market and industry that is an important part of the Comms Design culture and brand,” said Paul Clark, “Unipart Rail, the rail division of Unipart Group, has a very strong reputation for service and quality amongst rail companies in the UK and internationally. The new relationship as part of Unipart Group provides Comms Design with access to a wide range of skills and opportunities within the rail industry and beyond.”

Unipart Chairman and Group Chief Executive John Neill said the acquisition of Comms Design is a welcome new addition to Unipart’s portfolio of innovative, entrepreneurial, digital investments and commented: “We are all delighted to welcome Comms Design into our growing portfolio of digital businesses, products and capabilities. It is another important step in continuing Unipart’s digital transformation. The acquisition of Comms Design provides us with impressive technical skills, products and services for the rail industry which complement our Unipart Rail offering from our other businesses such as Park Signalling and Instrumentel. We expect Comms Design to play a strong role in meeting the needs of current and future customers as an increasing number of companies accelerate their plans to implement digital products and solutions.”

The DSW Corporate Finance team that advised Comms Design comprised Roger Esler, Paul Herriott, Bibin Johnson and Jonathan Wilkinson. 3volution LLP in Leeds provided legal advice and Forbes Dawson tax advice.

Roger Esler commented: “Dr Paul Clark and the team at Comms Design have built market leading expertise in in-cab signalling systems over many years, with products and specialist technology that have fantastic international potential. As part of Unipart, Comms Design will thrive as it captures the synergies available in this substantial, technology-led group. It has been a pleasure to advise Paul and find the right home for this innovative Yorkshire business.”

Dr Paul Clark said of the process and DSW: “Selling a business you have built from scratch is hard on both an emotional and practical level and you will absolutely need high quality expert advisors to guide you through the process. You may be a great at running your business but you are unlikely to have the skill set needed to sell that business effectively and should you be lucky enough to get to the bid stage in a disposal process, you will be facing experts across the table who do acquisitions day in day out. Be choosy about the Corporate Finance advisors that you go with as you are about to embark on a challenging voyage together. Roger and his team at DSW were simply brilliant throughout the deal process and there is no question in my mind that I would not have got to the business valuation achieved and structure of deal that I wanted without the careful guidance of DSW. I would recommend DSW without reservation.”