The family owners of Selfridges are in final talks to sell the luxury department store group to a Thai conglomerate for an estimated £4bn.
Central Retail group, which already owns upmarket department stores in Italy, Germany and Denmark, via a division run by former Selfridges boss Vittorio Radice, is expected to finalise a deal before the end of the year.
The group began with one store in Bangkok by Tiang Chirathivat in the 1950s and last year listed part of the business on the Thai stock exchange, and has other interests in convenience stores, shopping centres and hotels.
It is understood the deal to sell to the Central Retail group includes Selfridges’ four stores in the UK – in London, Birmingham and two in Manchester – as well as Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands. It also covers about £2bn of the chain’s prime property assets including the freehold of its listed Oxford Street flagship store.
The Westons, one of Canada’s richest families, first confirmed they might consider a sale of their European department stores in June after an approach from a mystery buyer. They are not expected to sell their Canadian chain Holt Renfrew.
The family hired bankers from Credit Suisse to run an auction process that is thought to have attracted bids from the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns Harrods, and Lane Crawford, the Hong Kong-based department store owner.
If the sale to Central Retail, first reported by the Times, goes ahead then it would be the latest chapter in a rollercoaster history for Selfridges, which was opened in 1909 by the American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge. At one time the Oxford Street store housed more than 100 departments, including a shooting range and a library.
The Westons bought Selfridges just after Radice, an Italian retail expert and the previous boss of Habitat made his exit. He led a bold reinvention of Selfridges in the 1990s – attracting more fashionable brands, staging events to tempt in shoppers and launching the brand’s expansion outside London. Radice moved on to an unsuccessful stint at Marks & Spencer.
It is not clear why the Weston family are considering selling their department store business in the midst of a pandemic.
One retail insider told the Guardian this summer that W Galen Weston’s son, also called Galen, who heads up the family holding company Wittington Investments Ltd from Canada, and daughter Alannah, who is chair of Selfridges group, had not got the “conviction to carry on” with running the European department stores after a difficult period.
In the year to February 2020, Selfridges’ sales rose by 7% to £1.97bn, but profits slid 10% to £88m. Since then, department stores, particularly in London, have suffered from a drop in international travel while their large expensive buildings have been forced to close for lengthy periods during high street lockdowns designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Cheaper rival Debenhams collapsed leading to the closure of more than 120 high street outlets, while the Beales chain also went into administration last year with only a handful of its 22 outlets since revived.
John Lewis has closed 16 outlets in two years while House of Fraser now has just 42 of the 59 outlets it boasted in 2018 when it was bought out of administration by Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley’s retail group. Its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street is set to close in January and its Swindon store closed a fortnight ago.
The Westons who own Selfridges are cousins of George Weston, the boss of Associated British Foods (ABF), which owns Primark, Twinings tea and Kingsmill bread.
However, the ownership of Selfridges is separate from the British arm of the family, descended from Galen’s brother Garfield Weston, who own a large stake in ABF as well as the Fortnum & Mason luxury food store and Heal’s furniture store.