National Express swoops in to buy Clarkes of London

National Express Group (NEG) has bought respected family-owned independent, Clarkes of London. It runs 56 coaches from its Lower Sydenham base, halfway between Croydon and the city.

Says NEG: “The acquisition expands our significant presence in the commuter and private hire markets. It will be business as usual for our customers and the Clarkes team.”

Clarkes will be managed by Gillingham, north Kent-based The Kings Ferry; itself bought by NEG nine years ago. Its MD, Ian Fraser, adds the new role of MD at Clarkes to his duties.

Clarkes was run by husband and wife team Debbie and Terry Newman, who will stay with the business for a ‘transitional period’

Clarkes was run by husband and wife Debbie and Terry Newman (pictured), who will stay with the business for a “transitional period.”

The purchase price has not been revealed. Clarkes is financially strong; its latest accounts for the year ending 30 April showed a £329,667 pre-tax profit on an £8.4m turnover, a 3.9% margin. Its net assets were £4.3m and its acid ratio 0.44.

Mr Fraser says: “It’s a company I’ve look at and admired for some time. The Kings Ferry has benefitted from the economies of scale by being part of a plc, and I’m sure this will also help Clarkes.”

There is plenty of room for expansion at Clarkes, which already has a 70-vehicle O-Licence and space for 100 vehicles in its modern yard. The Kings Ferry runs 75 coaches.

Commuter coaches are 20% of Clarkes’ turnover. It gives NEG a strong portfolio of corporate work and private hire – especially inbound tourism, an area that The Kings Ferry is weaker in – to the group.

The firm, founded in 1958 by coal hauliers Edwin and Lillian Clarke, soon developed into coaching. In 1972 his eldest son, Bill Clarke and his wife, took control and began to broaden the services.

Since Bill’s retirement in 2002, control passed to his eldest daughter, Debbie Newman, who instituted a major business change programme and expansion.