ASPREY PLANS TO SELL MOST OF ITS OPERATIONS

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — The Asprey Group, the jewelry and luxury goods retailer, revealed plans Wednesday to sell all its operations except Asprey and Garrard, which are to be combined into a new company.
The restructuring follows a sharp downturn in profits and sales at the company, which was bought by Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei in 1995 for 243.5 million pounds. At that time, the prince said he planned to invest in Asprey to turn it into a major force in the luxury goods market worldwide, but it remains dependent on Middle Eastern clients. Four customers — including two heads of state of oil-producing nations — account for 80 percent of its sales.
The group’s last accounts filed with the British government showed a pretax loss of $6.1 million on sales of $361.8 million in the year ended March 31, 1997. Dollar figures are translated from the English pound at current exchange. Asprey has been hit by lower demand from its core Middle Eastern customers as a result of weaker oil prices.
Ian Dahl, Asprey’s chief executive, informed the company’s staff on Wednesday of the restructuring. Under the plan, Asprey will sell its subsidiary businesses, which include the U.K. jewelers Watches of Switzerland, with 14 stores; Mappin & Webb, with 16 stores, and Hamilton & Inches, with one store in Scotland.; the Swiss jeweler Les Ambassadeurs, which has four shops; British couturier Tomasz Starzewski, who has a freestanding store on Sloane Street in London; pawnbrokers E.A. Barker; bookbinder Sangorski, Sutcliffe and Zaehnsdorf, and the luxury watch distributor J.W. Benson Ltd.
Dahl did not reveal a time frame for the proposed sales or the number of layoffs that might result. Asprey and Garrard employ a total of 330 people.
In addition, the company is closing the Garrard store on Regent Street on July 18 and will rename the new combined company Asprey & Garrard, concentrating its operations on the Asprey stores in Bond Street, London and in New York.
The group currently is spending $16.7 million on refurbishing and enlarging the Bond Street store, which will open Sept. 1 under the new name. An Asprey spokeswoman declined to give details of the remodeling program.

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