Dealmakers: Building on family values

Fox Group’s latest big move is another ground breaking deal intended to strengthen its position as the North West’s leading haulage, earthwork and plant hire specialist.

The Blackpool based business’ acquisition of long-established Blackledge Plant Hire further increases its size and capacity, creating a group with a combined turnover of in excess of £85m.

And the family company’s buy and build strategy shows no signs of running out of steam, with managing director Paul Fox declaring: “We will consider any opportunities that we think are a good fit and will make us stronger.”

Fox Group has made several strategic moves to expand its capacity and reach in recent years. The winner of the Built Environment in this year’s Red Rose Awards, Fox’s growth journey really got underway in 2020, with the acquisition of Hurt Plant Hire.

It was a multi-million-pound deal that brought together two of the North West’s heavyweight operators in the construction sector.

Last year Fox welcomed JJ O’Grady, which is headquartered in Lostock Hall, to the group, as it continued to consolidate its prime position in the haulage and plant hire services sector and utilities business.

We don’t ever want to be in a position where we lose that family feel

This latest acquisition of Bamber Bridge based Blackledge means Fox now boasts a combined almost 250-strong wagon fleet and more than 450 items of plant and machinery, together with more than 550 colleagues.

Paul says: “This acquisition makes perfect sense for us. Blackledge is a well-run business with great people and has a track record of providing excellent services to a wide range of clients in the local area.

“It also means that we get a welcome boost to the group’s existing fleet of quality vehicles and plant. It is a major part of our continuing strategy of growth.”

Established in the 1970s, Blackledge has built a strong reputation as a plant hire specialist. A second generation, family-run business, it has 40 machines and 14 vehicles.

Fox is a fourth-generation family business that can trace its history back to 1932. It specialises in the supply and haulage of aggregates, recycled materials, muck-shift, earthworks and civil engineering projects.

Paul describes the Hurt deal as “a catalyst” for future growth, which opened new doors for the business and has created significant opportunities to compete for larger projects. He says: “That was the springboard for us.”

Paul says that the business follows “five golden rules” when it comes to its acquisition strategy and its targets.

“Rule number one is, it can’t be broken,” he says. “Secondly, it has got to have good people, who will stay on.”

Paul adds: “We’ve got to understand the business and that it fits in the sector we work in, and that’s important.”

His next rule is that the group must be able “to unlock hidden value” from the business it is acquiring.

And the fifth golden rule? Paul says: “Every business we have bought is a family business and that is a big thing for us. We look for businesses with the same family values that we have.”

“There’s an emotional aspect to family businesses. If you are emotional about something you are generally motivated and that is a big factor for us.”

Paul adds: “The aim is to carry on the road we are going down and taking advantage of the right opportunities that are the right fit.”

“However, we don’t ever want to be in a position where we lose that family feel.”