Rapidly expanding Canadian property adviser Avison Young has acquired Wilkinson Williams, one of the UK’s most respected niche firms.
The out-of-town retail specialist’s 16 staff will move over to Avison Young, with Miles Marten, Paul Wilkinson, James Potter, Grant Imlah, Mark Phelps, David Marsden, Paul Simpson and Peter Phillips joining as principals.
Wilkinson Williams is currently instructed on more than 21.5m sq ft of space. Last year it advised clients on investment transactions with a combined value of approximately £580m.
Avison Young’s UK team now totals more than 100, following a series of acquisitions made since it entered the country in 2014 with the purchase of Haywards. It has since also bought Jorden Salata, North Rae Sanders and WHR Property Consultants.
Wilkinson Williams is the latest in a series of niche businesses to be hoovered up by larger corporates over the past five years.
Marten – pictured (right) with Wilkinson (left) and Avison Young principal and UK managing director Jason Sibthorpe – said there were several push-and-pull factors that prompted the 27-year-old business to sell up, including a desire to provide a more rounded service to retail clients.
“We have been attracted by the fact there is no UK retail presence within the AY business at the moment and we will be able to slot in as a unit in our own right. A retail adviser needs to be a retail adviser, not just out-of-town, and we want to be able to give advice globally and in different subsectors, not least retail distribution.
“The retail world is changing a lot at the moment, as is the advisory business. We recognised that – whether we were going to stay independent or not – data, information and research is really important and that’s where we have struggled a bit against bigger competitors.”
Retail is the UK’s most under-pressure sector, but Sibthorpe said he had no hesitation in expanding into the sector.
“Retail is the most challenged sector globally, not just in the UK. But however much stress exists, there is also still a market. It is polarised and there are different elements that are stronger than others and the area Wilkinson Williams has been operating in has still been reasonably robust. It is also about talent. If you have the talent to give the right advice, in a tougher market the more talented are the ones that are approached by clients – and we have the best in the business.”
Avison Young has also established a new West End office on Savile Row, W1, in order to facilitate its ongoing expansion.
Earlier this month Canadian fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) made a $250m preferred equity investment into Avison Young. As a result, the company’s chairman and chief executive, Mark Young, said it had “one of the sector’s largest war chests”. He is looking to buy in $1bn (£762m) of turnover through acquisitions globally, half of which will be in the US with the majority of the balance in the UK and the rest of Europe.