LONDON — It’s official. Selfridges is exploring a sale, and advisers at Credit Suisse have sent out an information memorandum to potential investors, according to industry sources.
The Times of London reported the news on Monday, following an earlier report in June that the company was mulling a sale after being approached by a potential bidder with an offer in excess of 4 billion pounds for its U.K., Irish, and Dutch businesses. It is understood that the Canadian business is not included.
The reported offer came in the wake of the death of Galen Weston at the age of 80 following a long illness. The late Weston had sat at the helm of food, retail and real estate companies in North America, the U.K. and Europe. Among his holdings were Selfridges Group, comprising four stores in the U.K.; Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland; De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands, and Holt Renfrew in Canada.
Sources noted sovereign wealth funds, such as Adia of Abu Dhabi, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and the Qatar Investment Authority, which already own Harrods, as interested bidders. Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford is also seen as a potential buyer.
It is understood that two or three prospective buyers had expressed interest already, but no formal bid had been made.
George Wallace, chief executive officer of MHE Retail, said 4 billion pounds is a punchy price tag, but “as we saw when the Qataris bought Harrods a few years back, the wealth funds are prepared to pay a premium for trophy assets, and Selfridges is a rare jewel.”
“The company relies on a global audience and physical shopping is key to the brand. That adds an extra risk as the prospects for international travel remain uncertain. Customer traffic is low now, but my guess is there will eventually be a big bounce and crowds will return, however long that may take. Difficult to say how long the process will be, but this will not be a fire sale,” he added.
Guy Elliott, senior vice president of retail at Publicis Sapient, speculated that the Weston family “might not want to wait as long as recovery could take, as however glamorous a ‘destination’ Selfridges is, a store with such historic stature is not immune to changing consumer habits, and had its most difficult year in its 113-year-old history due to the pandemic, or “perhaps the iconic property that held such a special part in Galen Weston’s heart, with his passing, the group is looking to divest an aging and distressed asset.”
The property for sale is estimated to be worth only about half of the 4 billion-pound price tag. Elliott said it would be wise to assume that the final buyer would be looking to capitalize on its premier brand, and it would end up being a “showpiece” buy rather than a purely financial investment.
He also pointed out that despite all the market interest and auction process, the Weston family may still decide not to sell in the end. “How [the second half of] 2021 pans out in terms of recovery will likely be the deciding factor,” Elliott added.
As reported in May, the Weston family saw their wealth rise by 470 million pounds to 11 billion pounds over the past year, making them the 10th richest family in the U.K., according to an annual ranking by The Sunday Times of London.
Although Selfridges has been affected by COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing measures, it remains a trendsetting retailer in London, and a destination store, setting a host of collaborations and new concepts.
During lockdown last July, the store laid off 14 percent of its employees, or 450 jobs, and said it was girding for tough times due to the impact of lockdown closures.
At the time, group managing director Anne Pitcher predicted that recovery would be slow, with the 2020 sales forecast to be “significantly less” than they were in 2019.
She said the store needed to make “fundamental changes,” and has been looking at every aspect of the business: “our structures, our costs, our ways of working — from top to bottom, leaving no stone unturned to ensure we are fit for purpose and the future.”
Among the changes, Selfridges unveiled a bold look at its Birmingham, England store on Monday, with its curvy blue shape and large silver disk facade now covered by black and pink patterns designed by Osman Yousefzada.
The public art commission, titled “Infinity Pattern 1,” covers more than 107,639 square feet and is a radical new landmark for the city.
It will be on full display until the end of the year and be dismantled gradually next year while the store undergoes major renovation until next summer. It’s expected to be completed just ahead of the Commonwealth Games.