The famous London toy retailer Hamleys has been sold to its Indian business partner, Reliance Industries, in a deal worth nearly £70m.
Founded in 1760, Hamleys is the world’s oldest toy shop and over the last 16 years the retailer, best known for its seven-storey store on Regent Street, in London, has passed from owners in Iceland, to France and, most recently, to China.
The sale is at a knockdown price: the Chinese footwear group C.banner International bought Hamleys from France’s Ludendo Groupe for £100m in 2015. Before that, it was owned by the now defunct Icelandic investment group Baugur, which bought it off the stock exchange in 2003. Reliance is paying £68m.
Successive owners have tried to turn the British household name into a global brand, with limited success. In 2017 it closed a number of loss-making stores in the UK, Ireland and Nordic countries, a restructuring that helped turn that year’s £12m loss into a profit of £2.4m in 2018. The toy seller has 167 stores in 18 countries, the majority of them in India, where Reliance is already its franchise partner.
The acquisition is the first of an overseas retail brand by the billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries.
The Reliance Brands subsidiary operates a chain of 88 Hamleys franchise stores. Having established itself as India’s leading telecoms player, Reliance Industries has been firming up plans for a major retail onslaught to combine its traditional outlets with an online foray aimed at taking on Amazon and Walmart in India.
Reliance Brands’ chief executive, Darshan Mehta, said Hamleys had “pioneered the concept of experiential retailing”. “The worldwide acquisition of the iconic Hamleys brand and business places Reliance into the frontline of global retail,” he said. “Over the last few years, we have built a very significant and profitable business in toy retailing under the Hamleys brand in India.”