Selfridges set into Thai hands in $5.3 billion Christmas cuts

London’s popular Selfridges department store group is set to move from one billionaire family to another as Central Group’s Thai owners prepare to finalize a $5.3 billion deal to buy the retailer from Westons, one of Canada’s richest families.

The move will also see Vittorio Rades, the former Selfridges boss — widely known as the man who turned the contemporary retailer into a powerhouse for brands — back into the business he left 18 years ago.

The Thailand-based Chirathivat family is set to buy Selfridges and it is understood that, contrary to broader press reports, the retailer will be purchased directly by the family and not by Central Group, the international retail group it owns.

Central Retail Group was founded in 1956 with only one store in Bangkok, launched by Tiang Chirathivat, and last year it listed part of the business on the Thai Stock Exchange. It already owns a number of luxury stores in Italy, Germany and Denmark through a division run by former Selfridges president Vittorio Rades, and now has about 3,700 stores globally, from supermarkets and convenience stores to electronics outlets.

Radice ran Selfridges between 1996 and 2003 and has been running a department store in Italy since 2006.

The deal is understood to include four Selfridges UK stores – its flagship store in Oxford Street in London, its future store in Birmingham and two stores in Manchester – as well as high-end Brown Thomas and Arnots in Ireland and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands. In all, the business operates 25 stores worldwide.

It also covers about $2.6 billion of the chain’s major real estate assets, including the freehold of its registered flagship store on Oxford Street in London, where Selfridges owns more than 600,000 square feet of selling space.

The hardest year for sale

The Westons family has hinted for the first time that it may consider selling its European stores in June after approaching a mysterious buyer. However, they are expected to keep their Canadian chain, Holt Renfrew.

The death of 80-year-old W. Galen Weston, who spearheaded the $790 million takeover of Selfridges in 2003, the closure of stores and the disastrous 12-month collapse of tourism, has no doubt.

The family hired Credit Suisse to start an auction process that is understood to have attracted bids from the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns rival store group Harrods, and Hong Kong-based store owner Lyn Crawford.

If the sale is completed — for now it’s expected to end at the end of the year — it would mark the final chapter in the turbulent history of Selfridges, which was opened in 1908 by American businessman of color Harry Gordon Selfridge.

Selfridge invested nearly $530,000 of his own money in opening the original store on the then-unfashionable West End of Oxford Street after visiting London from his hometown of Wisconsin. Selfridges & Co went on to become a household name, with Harry Gordon Selfridge heading the company until he was ousted in 1941 after becoming obsessed with a twin sister.

The end of the Westons era

The Westons family bought Selfridges after the departure of Radice, the Italian retail expert and former head of Habitat. He led a critically acclaimed turnaround at Selfridges in the 1990s, attracting international and cooler apparel brands and sparking the brand’s expansion outside of London. Radice left in an unlucky attempt to reinvent the Marks & Spencer home and household items business.

Recently, Selfridges has been hit hard by the pandemic, with forced store closures and the near-total elimination of tourism, a mainstay of its London business. In May, Selfridges obtained a license to host summer weddings.

In the year to February 2020, just before the pandemic hit Europe, Selfridges’ sales rose 7% to $2.6 billion, although profits fell 10% to $116 million. Facing the challenges of COVID, the company a year ago cut 450 jobs, about 14% of the total number of employees, following what it described as the “toughest year” in its history.

The owners of Selfridges are cousins ​​to George Weston, president of Associated British Foods, who owns Primark, Twinings Tea and Kingsmeal Bread. However, Selfridges’ ownership is separate from the family’s UK arm.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo