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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 10, 2010 8 years ago

British company buys Clockwork

Centrica pays $183 million in cash for the Sarasota-based home services business.

Sarasota entrepreneur Jim Abrams wanted Centrica, a British-based energy and home services conglomerate, to buy his company in 2002.

Back then, Abrams had run VenVest, a home services repair company with $14.3 million in annual sales. “I thought it would be a great marriage,” recalls Abrams. “They declined the opportunity.”

Abrams instead led VenVest on a major acquisition and growth plan. The company was renamed Clockwork Home Services in 2006 and by 2008, after a series of acquisitions and organic growth, it had $215 million in annual revenues. Growth like that finally got Centrica's attention.

That attention led to a six-month courtship, which culminated in a major deal announced June 10: Publicly-traded Centrica, Britain's largest energy supplier, bought Sarasota-based Clockwork for $183 million in a cash deal.

“We are thrilled about this,” says Eddy Collier, the President of Direct Energy, Centrica's North American subsidiary. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”

Clockwork provides plumbing, electrical and air-conditioning and heating services through three brands: Ben Franklin Plumbing, One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating and Mister Sparky. The company's franchisees are in 47 states and serve more than one million households.

Collier says Centrica had sought a way into the U.S. home services market for a few years. And he was aware of Clockwork's success, which is why he cold-called Abrams in late December 2009, soon after he was promoted to the top job at Direct Energy. Collier suggested he and Abrams should meet face-to-face.

The pair met a week before Christmas and by early 2010 they were working out the deal.

Both Abrams and Collier, in June 10 interviews with the Business Review, say they plan to maintain Clockwork's Sarasota headquarters. The British firm also plans few changes to the company's brands or business model.

“They wouldn't have bought us if they were going to dismantle us,” says Abrams. “We don't have any value that way.”

Abrams, 63, says he signed a two-year contract to serve as CEO of Clockwork under Centrica. He will report directly to Collier.

“The only regret I have about this is that I wish I was 25,” Abrams says he told Clockwork employees in a June 10 meeting. “I thought from day one that this was marriage made in heaven.”

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