A SCOTTISH businessman has sold for £30 million a business launched with an initial investment of just £30,000, most of it left to him by his late mother.

Perthshire-based Simon Howie, best known as the owner of a butcher’s firm of the same name, set up Mermaid Panels and Shore Laminates with a business partner and some support from RBS in 1991 after difficulty sourcing laminate products for his butcher shops.

Howie, whose Simon Howie Group, produces the world’s best-selling haggis brand, has now sold the Shore and Mermaid to Wilsonart, a global manufacturer and distributor of engineered surfaces headquartered in Austin, Texas.

Shore and Mermaid, based in Friarton Bridge Park in Perth, employs 74 people, who will be added to Wilsonart Europe’s 1450 employees, part of Wilsonart’s 4500-strong global workforce. There are no planned changes to operations at Shore and Mermaid.

Shore started out manufacturing bespoke panels and washroom cubicles. Howie bought out his partner and the company leased its small premises in the Perth harbour area, from which it took its name. In 1994, it bought a nine-acre site below Friarton Bridge, which now houses its 100,000 sq ft factory. Shore took off after winning a contract to supply Glasgow Airport’s international terminal with wall panels. It went on to supply products to Edinburgh, Bristol and Stansted airports, the Scottish Office at Leith, Standard Life’s buildings in Edinburgh, and many of the new buildings at the Gyle in Edinburgh.

A turning point for Shore came when Howie realised his food business was thriving due to its relationship with multiple retailers and that products with brand equity were the future. In 1998, the launch of Wetwall as an alternative to tiles became a player in the market. It now accounts for 75 per cent of Shore’s turnover. Wetwall is sold throughout the UK and into Europe and is set to launch in the USA.

Shore bought its main competitors, Mermaid Panels in Lincolnshire and Thrislington Cubicles in Wales in 2007. The three companies traded together but worked separately.

Mermaid and Wetwall now dominate the European shower panel market, with companies such as B&Q, Wickes, Travis Perkins and Homebase stocking their products. Thrislington Cubicles remains outwith the sale. Howie said: “While I’m delighted to see the deal completed, the massive effort put into the development of the companies over the years and the relationships which have been formed with the key people in the companies make this a difficult day. We were intent on finding a buyer that loved the laminates and surfaces business. There were many instances in the early days when I thought we would struggle to see the month out, but we had a few lucky breaks and I managed to find the best people in the industry to help me drive the business forward.

“My mother died at 50, the same age I am now, leaving my brothers and me £23,000 each. This is what I used to start Shore Laminates.

“I thought the company was lost at one point, but the idea of wiping out her life’s work was never an option for me. I will continue to support the business in the coming months and years in a non-executive capacity.”

Simon Howie Group has an annual turnover of more than £60m and employs almost 400 staff across a range of sectors from property, waste energy, bulk goods handling and distribution to farming.