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Brightwells figures buck trend of doom and gloom

BRIGHTWELLS has all but wrapped up its 2008 sales season with a very unusual package inside - a set of year-end figures showing a significant increase in numbers sold and tremendous growth in turnover for its Ascot and Cheltenham bloodstock sales.

Britain's ‘third' auction house has done something none of the other major companies in Britain orIreland was able to do in the slumping economy - sell more horses, and for more money, than it did in 2007. Its current turnover - minus results from a sale at Ascot on Tuesday - is £10,138,000, more than twice last year's total. The 1,190 horses sold represent a 22 per cent increase on last year.

Brightwells, which also auctions items ranging from property to classic vehicles to farm machinery, is continuing to invest significantly in the growth of its equine business, while other sales companies are looking for ways to cut back as their annual turnover has been slashed.

The key to this optimism is its exclusive 25-year contract with Cheltenham racecourse to conduct auctions there, said Matt Mitchell, who was hired as the company's head of bloodstock in February after seven years as managing director of Goffs' bloodstock sales division.

"I think one has to recognise that one of the advantages of a business like Brightwells is that it's a broad-based auctioneering business," said Mitchell. "Strategically the directors have recognised for the last two to three years that, given its knowledge and experience of the bloodstock business, we're in a fortunate position to actually capitalise on that. The first stage is the partnership agreement with Cheltenham. We see opportunities in that."

Brightwells conducted four auctions at Cheltenham this year, a big jump on the one it held in 2007. The four Cheltenham sales brought in more than three-quarters of its turnover for the year, and Mitchell believes the contract with the racecourse gives the sales company a unique advantage for two main reasons. The first is competition.

"Given the extra sales we [our turnover] are up, and now it has to be taken in the picture what Brightwells are doing in the National Hunt market," he said. "It's not down as much as everyone's saying it is, based on the other sales, because market share has got to be recognised in the context as well."

DBS was the immediate victim of the Brightwells-Cheltenham contract, which was signed last year, displacing a December National Hunt breeze-up auction that the Yorkshire auction house had held at Cheltenham previously.

But Mitchell also believes the new sales venue is opening up a new niche unto itself. "I think what's happening in the National Hunt and point-to-point market is that Cheltenham is bringing sales into the public arena that up to now would have taken place privately. Cheltenham is such a unique place, firstly because in terms of National Hunt racing it's the Mecca, and the result is that the quality of racing there attracts people to the sales."

A new £1 million sales arena, financed by Brightwells, is due to open at Cheltenham in February. The investment will add to £200,000 of improvements begun last January, notably the Ecotrack surface to be used by breeze-up horses. Despite the broad economic downturn, Mitchell said the company is committed to its investment at Cheltenham.

As to the Ascot sales - roughly one per month - Mitchell admits theyare "a different level of sale" but he is hopeful the numbers and quality will hold up. "We've been seeking to upgrade the quality and succeeded in getting better quality store horses," he said. "There's no doubt how it's perceived, where the dream has finished and many horses are coming through to enter a different arena, although winners do come out of Ascot on a consistent and regular basis."

With its varied facets, Brightwells is not immune to the general downturn. "Given the nature of our business - we're involved in the area of 4x4 vehicles and property for instance - we're not immune from the general economic position," said Mitchell. In that context, he said: "The equine business isone of our stronger areas."




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