SCOTTISH entrepreneur Simon Howie has sold a laminates business he started with a £23,000 inheritance from his mother in a £30 million deal.

Mr Howie, best known for his Perth-based butchery business, admitted to mixed emotions as he offloaded Shore Laminates and sister firm Mermaid Panels to Texas-based Wilsonart Engineered Surfaces in an all-cash deal.

Wilsonart will bolt on the firms, which make products such as shower walls, to its own laminates operations in the UK. The 74 affected staff will join the 1,450-strong Wilsonart Europe team, part of a global operation of 4,500. No changes are planned at the acquired businesses.

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Thrislington Cubicles, the third part of Mr Howie’s laminates business under his Strata Group, was not part of the sale. Strata is on course to turn over £31m this year, meaning the entire laminates operation had accounted for more than half of the combined annual turnover of the wider Simon Howie Group.

Asked yesterday how he felt about the sale, Mr Howie said: “There’s definitely a mixed feeling going on in my head. The relationships I have with colleagues and customers make it on one hand a sad day. On the other, I will still have a relationship with the company going forward. I felt it was the right thing for the company to be part of a global organisation like Wilsonart.”

On whether the sale of Shore, which has a 100,000 sq foot factory below Friarton Bridge, Perth, has been some time in the planning, he added: “Yes and no. [With] private businesses you have always got one eye on an exit. We knew of a deal Wilsonart had done down south. EY [advisers] spoke with them and it was quickly obvious that the two businesses were well matched.”

Mr Howie, whose meat business supplies big-name supermarkets and hotels, established Shore 26 years ago, after running into problems sourcing laminate products for his butcher shops. After starting out with an initial £30,000 investment, which comprised of his mother’s legacy topped up by funds from the bank, he grew the company by diversifying into product areas, such as shower walls and washroom cubicles, and by acquisition.

A key part of its development came in 1998 when the company, which by then had supplied wall panels and products to the likes of Glasgow and Edinburgh airports and Standard Life, launched its Wetwall product. Designed as an alternative to tiles, it now accounts for 75 per cent of Shore’s turnover, with customers across Europe and a launch into the US imminent.

Growth has also come through acquisitions, with Mermaid being snapped up in 2007, followed by Thrislington Cubicles in North Wales later that year. Mermaid and Wetwall are now understood to hold commanding positions in the European shower panel market, with customers such as B&Q, Wickes, Travis Perkins and Homebase.

Mr Howie admitted that building the business had been challenging in the early 1990s, explaining that generating cash flow, securing customers and building credibility had taken time. But he said that the business began to grow once it had established a “CV of big projects”. With the focus of Shore on the supply, rather than the fit-out, of laminate products, it developed a close working relationship with Thomas Johnstone, the Renfrewshire-based contractor.

Having now sold the company, Mr Howie said there are other potential new business ventures that he is now considering.

However, he said the workload is heavy at his existing companies, which includes interests in property, waste energy, bulk goods handling and farming. He noted that harvest time is approaching for the meat trade, which will lead on to a busy time for Simon Howie butchery business in the run-up to Burns Night.

The Shore acquisition was the 10th clinched by Wilsonart in recent years. Its president for Western Europe, Tim Pearson, said: “The addition of these two companies to the Wilsonart portfolio reinforces our commitment to providing surfacing solutions for a wide range of interior demands.”