LONDON — The sale of Selfridges could be announced in the next weeks, with Thailand’s Central Group said to be closing in on a deal.
If it comes to fruition, the purchase would reunite Vittorio Radice, who is now an executive at Central Group, with the British retailer, which began exploring a sale earlier this year following the death of Galen Weston, the patriarch of the owning family.
On Thursday, The Times of London said the Weston family had agreed a sale to Central Group, although it remains unclear whether Central is paying the 4 billion pounds asking price, or whether they are partnering with another party — a private equity, or property group — on the deal.
An industry source here said that 4 billion pounds would be a hefty price for Central, which usually pursues much smaller deals. Selfridges declined to comment on the report of a sale.
Central is controlled by the Chirathivat family, and operates retail businesses in Thailand and Vietnam as well as Europe. Its holdings include Rinascente in Italy; Illum in Denmark, and KaDeWe, Oberpollinger and Alsterhaus in Germany.
The company has made no secret of its intentions to expand through acquisitions in Europe and Asia, but said it has little interest in the U.S. market.
“It’s a very big market, very advanced. It’s very sophisticated, whereas in Europe, we feel that we can buy these stores and improve them,” said Tos Chirathivat, the group’s chIef executive officer, in an interview with WWD in 2017.
One of Central’s subsidiaries, Central Retail, which operates a consumer portfolio across Thailand, Vietnam and Italy, began trading on the Thai stock exchange in February, 2020. The initial public offering raised 78.12 billion Thai baht, or $2.48 billion at current exchange, valuing the company at 253 billion baht, or $8.06 billion.
Although the markets that Central operates in lean toward bricks-and-mortar shopping, the company made a big shift to online in 2016 with the purchase of the Thai and Vietnamese businesses of online fashion retailer Zalora for an undisclosed amount.
In September, Central inked a partnership with the Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com that came with a total investment of $500 million into online retail and fintech services.
The link-up sets the stage to do battle with Alibaba, which has been investing heavily into Southeast Asia via Lazada, and raised its stake in the online retailer to 83 percent in June.
Central Group’s plan is to open multiple flagship stores on JD.com for its department stores and key retail chains, as well as for some brands owned or operated by Central Group.
The Chirathivat family is nothing short of a household name in Thailand.
Central is the country’s largest retail conglomerate, and rose from a single shop opened by Tiang Chirathivat 70 years ago.
A Chinese immigrant to Thailand, Tiang founded the company in 1947, introducing fixed pricing to the country, and then later, its first shopping center. Now the family’s portfolio covers everything from shopping malls across Southeast Asia to department stores in Europe, and hotel brands like Centara, and the group employs more than 70,000 people.
Radice is a non-executive board member of Central Group and vice-chairman of Rinascente. If a sale does materialize he will once again have oversight of the British store that he helped to revitalize between 1996 and 2003 before the Weston family purchased it.
Radice cut his teeth as managing director of Habitat U.K., and later moved on to Selfridges. After a stint at Marks & Spencer’s home division, he joined what was at the time called La Rinascente, as CEO in 2005, with a mandate to revitalize the then-sleepy department store.
As reported, Selfridges began exploring a sale earlier this year, and has been working with Credit Suisse on finding a buyer for its U.K., Irish and Dutch businesses. It is understood that the Canadian business, Holt Renfrew & Co., is not included in the deal.
Galen Weston died in April at the age of 80 following a long illness, and talk of a possible sale of the group surfaced a few months later.
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.
At the time, industry sources had mooted sovereign wealth funds, such as Adia of Abu Dhabi, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns Harrods, as interested bidders.
Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford was also seen as a potential buyer, but the price tag of 4 billion, and the vast amounts of brick-and-mortar property, were said to be sticking points for any potential suitors.