Asia's richest man buys iconic British toy store chain Hamleys

Mr Mukesh Ambani's Reliance has been buying up a string of retail brands.
Mr Mukesh Ambani's Reliance has been buying up a string of retail brands.

MUMBAI • Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani has snapped up the storied British toy store Hamleys from its Chinese owners for US$88 million (S$120 million), the latest in a dizzying splurge of retail acquisitions.

Mr Ambani's Reliance Brands announced late on Thursday that it had bought the 259-year-old toy retailer from the Hong Kong-listed Chinese fashion conglomerate C. Banner International Holdings.

"The worldwide acquisition of the iconic Hamleys brand and business places Reliance into the frontline of global retail," Mr Darshan Mehta, president and CEO of Reliance, said in a statement.

Mr Ambani, worth some US$50 billion according to Forbes, initially made his fortune in oil refining and petrochemicals but his Reliance empire has since branched out into everything from telecoms to cable networks and tech firms.

In recent years, he has massively expanded his retail portfolio, snapping up a string of brands such as Burberry, Canali, Paul Smith, Armani, Just Cavalli and Jimmy Choo.

M Ambani has said he hopes the consumer business wing of his empire will contribute as much to his group's earnings as the core energy business by the end of 2028.

He is engaged in fierce competition with Amazon and Walmart in an ongoing race to dominate India's retail market. The purchase of the much-loved Hamleys will help bolster that fight.

Best known for its enormous flagship store in London - itself a tourist attraction that receives five million visitors a year - Hamley's has been expanding internationally since the mid-2000s.

Reliance already had a franchise agreement for India, running 88 stores in 29 cities but the purchase now brings Mr Ambani a total of 167 stores in 18 countries.

While the brand is well-known, Hamleys has struggled.

The US$88 million price tag is almost half what C. Banner paid the brand's previous owner, France's Groupe Ludendo, in 2015.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Asia's richest man buys iconic British toy store chain Hamleys'. Print Edition | Subscribe