Century-old Selfridges falls to Thai ownership

Selfridges is best known for the giant store on Oxford Street that has long been a mecca for fashion enthusiasts. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The billionaire dynasty behind Selfridges & Co has agreed to sell the British department store operator to Thai conglomerate Central Group, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The Weston family has agreed terms on a deal, which could be announced this month, the source said, requesting not to be identified because the information is private. Central Group is owned by the Chirathivats, one of Asia's wealthiest families.

Trophy assets in Britain have attracted interest even as retail business on major shopping streets suffers. Retail property values have declined in recent years, and the industry was recently hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to online shopping.

Ikea agreed to buy the former Topshop store on Oxford Circus, one of the busiest retail locations in Europe, in October. London's Ritz Hotel went for sale last year. Qatar's sovereign wealth fund bought Harrods about a decade ago. Still, some well-known British assets have failed to find buyers. In January, Boohoo Group agreed to buy the 240-year-old Debenhams department store operator's brand name, though not its stores, which later closed their doors.

Bloomberg reported in June that the Weston family was considering a £4 billion (S$7.3 billion) sale of the group following an approach from a potential buyer. The Weston family had asked Credit Suisse to advise on the future of the business, sources had said at the time.

Selfridges and Central Group declined to comment. Central Retail, a publicly traded mall developer controlled by the Chirathivat family, said in a statement on Thursday (Dec 2) that it was not involved with a deal to buy Selfridges. A spokesman for Central Retail was not immediately able to clarify whether the statement applied to other parts of the Central Group. The family had the 20th largest fortune in Asia, worth US$12.9 billion (S$17.6 billion), according to a ranking compiled in November last year by Bloomberg News.

The British retailer, founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, is best known for the giant store on Oxford Street that has long been a mecca for fashion enthusiasts. There are also Selfridges stores in Manchester and Birmingham. The business was bought by the Canadian businessman Galen Weston for almost £600 million in 2003, and has since expanded to include other department store chains, including Arnotts and Brown Thomas in Ireland, Holt Renfrew in Canada and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.

The Weston family is formidable in the world of retailing and is split into two branches in Canada and Britain. The Canadian wing controls Selfridges, while the British side controls Associated British Foods, the owner of Primark.

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