The String Zone

Selling A Business

A couple who transformed the specialist classical music shop they founded into a thriving online retail business have completed its sale, despite the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Andrew and Gillian Riley founded The String Zone Limited in 2004 to supply strings for violins, cellos and double basses for players of classical music.  But as the nature of retail changed, they took their business away from the physical confines of their Egham-based shop, which was known as A K Riley, and sold via the internet instead.

When they took the decision to retire last year, they discussed their plans with Watersheds, who brought two serious buyers to the table.  One of these, Strings and Things, a wholesale distributor of musical instruments and accessories based in Brighton, saw particular value in The String Zone’s business.

The String Zone is a highly focused, thriving, retail internet business, whereas Strings and Things supply to both online and physical shop fronts, and its specialism of classical music was complementary to their own wholesale operation which is aimed at the more popular end of the music market.

Watersheds partner Dan Wright, who acted for The String Zone, said Andrew and Gillian had some specific requirements.

“Andrew’s career had been in repairing violins, before he and Gillian decided 16 years ago to open a shop specialising in strings for musical instruments,” said Dan.

“Over the years they had put in a lot of hard work, employed staff, and moved with the times to reinvent the firm as a very successful online-only company.  They wanted to reap the rewards of their investment and perseverance, but they also wanted the business to continue to serve their loyal customers, and to offer those staff who wanted to stay on the opportunity to do so.

“I was delighted that we were able to introduce the couple to two very different potential buyers, to allow them to select the deal that best suited them from a financial perspective and in terms of the future of the business.”

The advent of lockdown brought some particular challenges to progressing the sale, but Dan said that by using some creative solutions the deal went through almost as normal.

“The pandemic meant the buyer couldn’t inspect The String Zone’s premises to see how stock was stored, and how much space it took up, for example,” said Dan.

“So we organised a virtual video tour for the buyer, which put their mind at rest.  In the meantime, the buyer, appreciated that internet sales were increasing as lockdown began to take effect.  The sale has not only provided the buyer with breadth in terms of musical offer, but has also provided the most resilient form of access to the retail market and a second revenue stream.”

Andrew Riley said: “Watersheds generated a lot of interest leading to two very proceedable buyers, which reassured us that the offer we accepted was competitive.  I was pleased that the deal was able to go through considering almost everything had come to a halt because of the pandemic lockdown.”

“I liked the fact that we were only charged a fee on successful completion of the deal, and I would certainly recommend Watersheds to anyone looking to sell their business.”

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