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Company Spotlight: Artisan


AFTER a bad run, is Artisan finally escaping the long shadow of founder Stephen Dean?

Mr Dean quit Artisan two years ago but some of his dealings, particularly the acquisition and sale of Bickerton and Drivers, have cast a long shadow over the AIM-listed firm.

Since his departure, the new management has concentrated on house building and commercial development, and housing is helping drive the business.

Bought for £13 million four years ago, Mansfield-based Rippon sold 126 homes in the year to March 2004.

But it has a short landbank of just 136 plots and Artisan's drive to add to this business has so far proved fruitless.

The management has been looking for a house builder doing between 60 and 80 units a year in the Midlands and the north but has been put off by inflated prices.

Borrowings of £11.4 million were not helpful either but a swift exit from ailing construction group Wigmore produced £1.2 million in cash and helped drive the overdraft down to a far more reasonable £4.7 million.

With clear signs that the housing market is cooling, Artisan expects to be able to add to Rippon, which has a margin of 12.4 per cent - below the industry average.

Improving this and boosting the housing operation, which provided £26.6 million of the group's £32.1 million turn-over, will continue the firm's rehabilitation in the eyes of shareholders.