Richard Coulson

Richard Coulson

Complete began as a bookstore in 1890 and has now grown to be the largest UK independent dealer. Richard Coulson has been with the company since 1998.

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Feature: The complete picture

Background information

2021: Complete has been undergoing significant transformation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included a rebranding to Complete from its former name of Complete Business Solutions.

The initial lockdown in the UK hit the group hard, with sales immediately falling to 35% of pre-pandemic levels, although they gradually recovered over the course of the year. Group revenue for 2020 was £101.4 million ($132 million), a year-on-year decline of almost 9%. Further lockdowns in 2021 impacted the top line again, with sales for the first eight months of the year trending at about 65% of pre-COVID levels.

Against this backdrop, Complete took actions to reduce its cost base, including a 35% reduction in headcount, which enabled it to grow underlying EBITDA by 15% in 2020 versus 2019.

After acquiring eight dealers in 2018-2019, CEO Rich Coulson says the group has completed its national footprint. The focus has been on integrating these businesses under a single brand and improving operational efficiency. A refinancing was also concluded in 2021, something that Coulson said would enable Complete to “continue to develop during 2021 and beyond”.

2019: The acquisition spree that has defined Complete Business Solutions (CBS) over the past couple of years seems to have slowed since the end of 2018, with only two major purchases made under the watchful eye of CEO Richard Coulson.

In November 2018, CBS bought Derby-based Irongate, the final member of the Vertical Alliance, after Coulson acquired Office Gold and Anglo Office Group earlier in the year. This took CBS sales to £120 million ($156 million) and added a specialist in-house web to print service, as well as another key regional position.

Fast-forward to August 2019, and CBS has managed to break the £150 million barrier with the acquisition of high-profile business services provider Bluefish and its subsidiaries. The deal gives CBS another three sites, taking it to 24 locations across the UK.

All the deals fit with Coulson’s strategy of building its national and regional footprint, and the company is now well on its way to meeting his expectations of doubling the £80 million in sales it achieved at the end of 2017 by next year.

2018: Under the continued guidance of CEO Richard Coulson, this year has seen UK independent office supplies dealer Complete Business Solutions break the £100 million ($130 million) barrier.

Investment by private equity firm Abercross Holdings to the tune of £20 million in late 2017 has helped expedite Coulson’s strategic plan to build up the company over the next five years through organic growth and acquisitions. The reseller made three significant purchases in 2018: OP dealer Office Gold, IT and technical services company Simply Outsourced, and managed services provider Anglo Office Group. The addition of these businesses takes Complete’s locations to over 20 across the UK.

Complete has grown from £8 million in revenues in 2012 to reporting sales of £80 million at the end of 2017 before adding the latest acquisitions over the past few months, representing a phenomenal annual growth rate of 40%. Coulson expects to double sales by 2020.