The recent news of The Body Shop company entering administration serves as a stark reminder of the harsh realities businesses can face in a volatile economic climate. When a company becomes insolvent, meaning it can no longer meet its financial obligations, administration is often a path considered for potential survival or a structured closure.

What is Company Administration?

Company administration is a legal process in the UK designed to help struggling companies address their financial woes. An insolvency practitioner is appointed as an administrator to take control of the company. The administrator acts in the best interests of the company’s creditors, working to achieve one of three primary goals:

  • Rescue the company: the administrator assesses the company’s viability and seeks ways to restructure, streamline operations, or secure additional funding to keep the company afloat.
  • Achieve a better price for creditors: if a rescue is not possible, the administrator may focus on selling assets or the company as a whole to pay back creditors more than they would get in a liquidation.
  • Realise property for secured creditors: secured creditors hold an asset as collateral. The administrator might focus on selling that asset to repay the secured creditor.

Buying a Company Out of Administration: Key Considerations

Purchasing a company that has gone into administration holds risks but can present unique opportunities for keen buyers. Here are critical aspects to focus on:

  • Due Diligence: meticulous scrutiny of the company’s financials, debts, assets, and legal standing is paramount. Identify potential legal or financial red flags hindering any deal.
  • Employee Liabilities (TUPE): TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment Regulations) protects employees when a company changes hands. Consider potential costs associated with inherited staff, pension schemes, and outstanding obligations.
  • Property: understand the status of lease agreements, rental debts, and ownership of any physical premises.
  • Intellectual Property: valuable IP (patents, trademarks, copyrights) may be a prime component of the sale. Assess IP ownership and ensure proper transfer.
  • Book Debts: determine the likelihood of collecting outstanding debts owed to the insolvent company. These may offer a way to offset some of the purchase price.
  • Customer & Supplier Relationships: evaluate the state of these relationships. Disruption during the administration may have damaged loyalty,  making re-establishing those connections critical for post-purchase success.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Buying a Company from Administration

While there are undeniable risks, there are also potential advantages to acquiring a company that has been through administration:

  • Lower purchase price: companies in administration are often priced significantly lower than when operating as a going concern.
  • Opportunity to trim excess: restructuring may be easier as administrators tend to have more power to make changes, including terminating unfavourable contracts or shedding employees.
  • Strategic acquisitions: acquiring a distressed competitor can eliminate their presence in the market and lead to strategic consolidation.

Yet, it’s essential to weigh these against the substantial downsides:

  • Reputational damage: inherited brand damage and decreased customer trust could be difficult to address.
  • Hidden liabilities: it is crucial to conduct a thorough due diligence process to uncover potentially crippling hidden debts or legal liabilities.
  • Employee morale: inherited staff may have low morale and uncertainty, affecting company continuity.

Beyond The Body Shop

The Body Shop’s company administration is a high-profile case, but many companies across various industries struggle with insolvency. Proactive financial management and understanding the options available to distressed companies are critical. If insolvency arrives, seeking professional advice from an insolvency practitioner and licensed legal experts is vital for both distressed company owners and those considering purchasing assets from them. The success or failure of any business depends on a complex mix of factors, but carefully navigating administration can help pave the way for renewal or at least manage an orderly closure.