Selfridges is for sale. Who’s buying?

One of the world’s most famous department stores received an unsolicited offer for £4 billion. Now what?

 

Published June 2021

The billionaire family behind Selfridges & Co, whose London flagship is one of retail’s most iconic businesses, is considering buyer interest after receiving an unsolicited approach valuing it at £4 billion ($5.6 billion).

The luxury retailer, owned by the Weston retail dynasty that also controls Primark, has brought Credit Suisse on board to advise, sources close to the business told Vogue Business. The news was first reported by property trade publication React who described a “mystery buyer” valuing the property assets at £2 billion ($2.8 billion). Discussions are at an early stage and may not lead to a transaction, the sources said. Selfridges declined to comment on the potential sale.

Selfridges, founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, includes stores in Manchester and Birmingham and was bought by the Canadian businessman W Galen Weston for almost £600 million in 2003. Weston passed away earlier this year. His daughter Alannah is chairman of Selfridges Group. It’s understood the deal would include Selfridges’s landmark London store as well as its Exchange Square outlet in Manchester and Brown Thomas in Dublin.

The offer comes at an opportune time: Selfridges is struggling with reduced footfall and international tourism. Last year, the brand said it was cutting 450 jobs amid the toughest year in its history. Still, the hefty price tag and status make it an ideal trophy asset, property executives say. Rival Harrods was sold to the Qatari royal family for £1.5bn in 2010, Harvey Nichols is owned by Hong Kong businessman Dickson Poon, and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault is close to opening La Samaritaine in Paris after a hefty and lengthy revamp.

“There’s never been a better time to buy the business, the value of which will be lower because of the headwinds they’re facing,” says Jonathan De Mello, equity partner at CWM, a retail property consultancy. Still, “if you look back at the history of Selfridges’s growth, year-on-year their sales have grown phenomenally. They were able to constantly reinvent themselves. Shoppers would come to the store and experience things for the first time. They always have something new going on, and I would say they’re one of the best department stores globally.”

Offers could come from private equity investment in markets like the Middle East because several luxury department stores and brands are already in those hands. “They’re investment vehicles,” he says. Real estate deals are also emerging as an option for retailers: Macy’s looked for ways to use its real estate during the pandemic to come up with cash, Jane Hali, CEO of Jane Hali Associates, points out. “What Macy’s is doing with their Herald Square store is they’re using a portion of it for businesses and other things, and they’re consolidating a lot of stores and selling off real estate.”

Others are doubtful. “I would be very surprised if it’s not some ultra-high-net-worth individual or a sovereign wealth fund because the business isn’t actually up for sale: someone is coming in on paper with what seems like a big offer, and we don’t know how seriously the Weston family are taking it,” says Stephen Springham, partner and head of retail research at Knight Frank. “I don’t see anyone buying Selfridges, doing the sale and leaseback on the property, and then doing radical things with the store. This seems more like a trophy approach.”

“I think the future is positive for [Selfridges] because they are quite differentiated to the problems that some of the department stores are facing. Selfridges has benefited from the fact that it’s targeting a high-end customer with higher price points, and they’re offering products that can’t be bought anywhere else. It makes them stand out from the competition,” says CWM’s De Mello. The news of the offer is likely to drum up even more interest, he says. “Nobody realised that Selfridges would potentially sell, and now there could be multiple bidders.”

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