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Selfridges Deadline Nears

Samantha Conti

LONDON — Time is running out for would-be bidders to launch a rival offer for Selfridges, the London-based department store chain that Canadian billionaire Galen Weston offered to buy earlier this week for a total of $1.14 billion.

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Selfridges chairman Alun Cuthcart told WWD on the sidelines of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting here Thursday that documents relating to Weston’s offer would be sent to shareholders over the next few days. If more than 50 percent agree to sell their shares, then the offer becomes unconditional and all further bidding will be blocked. Shareholders will have an initial 21-day period to vote and a total of 60 days to make their final decision.

“Until the offer goes unconditional, there is time for other bids,” said Cuthcart. “But since we made the announcement Monday, we’ve heard nothing from anyone else. There has been no proposal yet from Aletheia Partners.”

As reported, Aletheia Partners, a consortium including the Iranian property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz with funding from the Formula One motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone, is said to be preparing a rival offer. A spokeswoman for Tchenguiz declined to comment on the bid.

The Selfridges meeting lasted only 30 minutes and was subdued. When Cuthcart opened the floor to questions, there was nary a peep from the 150-strong audience, made up mostly of senior citizens and institutional investors.

Cuthcart also announced total sales for the first 14 weeks of the year were 8 percent higher than the corresponding period last year. Sales at the Oxford Street flagship, however, were 1 percent lower. The war in Iraq, he said, took its toll on sales across Britain.

“We experienced more difficult trading conditions. In order to manage our seasonal stock position since then, we have brought forward some clearance activity, resulting in gross margin for the period being around 1 percentage lower than last year,” said Cuthcart.

The bid by Weston’s company, Oxford Acquisitions Ltd., values the department store chain at approximately $965 million. In addition, OAL plans to assume Selfridges’ net debt of $49 million.

Peter Williams, chief executive of Selfridges whose own bid proposal for the store was foiled by Weston’s, said he plans to remain at the store. He was promoted to the post of chief executive late last year when Vittorio Radice resigned to join Marks & Spencer plc.

“I would love to stay on. I enjoy my job, and I enjoy being a retailer. But the final decision is down to the new owners of the store,” said Williams.

During the shareholders’ meeting, Williams offered up some details of Selfridges first Glasgow unit, which will be designed by the Japanese architect, Toyo Ito. The store, scheduled to open in 2007, will be the first major commission for the architect in the U.K.

“The site we currently have for the store is derelict. Our intention is to build a new building which will look different from every other building in the city. We believe it’s the building that communicates what the business is about,” said Williams.

The new store will have 200,000 square feet of trading space and offer cosmetics, food, apparel and home furnishings. Total investment in the store will be in the region of $144 million.

Williams said the store was also on track to develop future units in Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle. Selfridges’ 250,000-square-foot Birmingham unit, designed by Future Systems, will open at the beginning of September.