The historic department store Selfridges could soon be up for sale.
The family owners of the luxury retailer are believed to have kick-started an auction for prospective buyers, putting a cool £4bn price tag on the business.
The Weston family, one of Canada’s richest, first admitted that it might consider a sale of its European department store assets last month after being approached by a mystery buyer.
Now the family is believed to have appointed advisers from Credit Suisse to oversee an auction and is planning to send out sale documents to an elite group of potential purchasers.
For those considering snapping up the iconic brand, it is understood that assets will include Selfridges’ stores in the UK – in London, Manchester and Birmingham – as well as Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.
The potential sale comes after the company, like so many others, has struggled with reduced footfall and a decline in international tourism brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, Selfridges cut approximately 450 jobs, around 14% of its total headcount, following the “toughest year” in its history.
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Despite this, the iconic brand could still be considered to be covetable, and while no formal bid has yet been tabled, interested parties are believed to include Thailand’s Central Retail group, which already owns the upmarket department stores La Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark and KaDeWe in Berlin, via a division run by former Selfridges boss Radice.
Other potential buyers could include HBC, the owner of Saks Fifth Avenue in the US, and Hong Kong’s The Lane Crawford Joyce Group – where the current Selfridges boss, Andrew Keith, worked previously.
What the sale will mean for London's Oxford Street?
Experts believe the potential purchase of the famous department store could give a boost to the surrounding areas.
“With Selfridges being such a famous retail brand and its iconic Oxford Street store the jewel in the crown of its 25-strong store portfolio, a sale could prove massively positive for surrounding shops and landlords of local commercial properties," explains Helen Marsh, a commercial property lawyer at Forbes Solicitors, specialising in retail property deals.
"The Selfridges sale process is already generating a lot of attention and is expected to lead to a high selling price, given its £4 billion starting price. This includes its prime property assets and could push up the values and rental prices of neighbouring properties.
Marsh says the sale could also see potential for new buyers to invest in the Selfridges brand including its store estate, further developing its reputation as a destination store, attracting shoppers from far and wide.
"This could also benefit local businesses including other shops - because Selfridges is so well-known, people will want to see what’s happening to the flagship store, which could lead to increases in shopper footfall and tourism in an area that has been suffering some decline, despite being one of Europe’s busiest high streets,” she adds.
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A brief history of Selfridges
As anyone who was a fan of the TV drama 'Mr Selfridge' will appreciate, Selfridges has a pretty interesting history.
The flagship London store was founded in 1909 by American entrepreneur, Harry Gordon Selfridge, when he arrived in the UK from Chicago with his heart set on opening his dream store.
A biog on the brand's website describes Selfridge's "revolutionary understanding of publicity and the theatre of retail" as being instrumental in changing the world of retail forever by introducing several firsts to the shopping experience.
Not only was the shop the first to bring beauty products to the front of a department store, he also created the first toilets for women in a department store, in his drive to support women's rights and the Suffragette movement.
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Selfridge can also be credited for bringing a sense of theatre to the retail experience, by introducing the incredible window displays for which the store is now famous.
While dramatic window displays are a prominent feature on today's high street, back in the early 1900s the theatricality, scale and even the fact that these were the first store windows to be lit at night meant crowds gathered around them at all times of the day.
And dramatic displays were just one of the features that set the company apart from other department stores.
At one point the flagship Oxford Street store also housed more than 100 departments, including a shooting range and a library.
Interestingly, Selfridges was also the first retailer to bring the newly invented television to British customers in 1925.
Over its century-plus history, the store has also experienced two major refits. The first was in 1992, followed by a second in 1996 which was credited as helping transform Selfridges back to being a desirable destination for shopping experiences.
This second refit was also responsible for introducing the iconic Selfridges yellow bag as an instantly recognisable symbol if the store.
Since 2003, the Weston family have owned and operated the business and as the company points out in a blog about its history, "Selfridges today is more than just the sum of its products - it's a shopping experience that promises to surprise, amaze and amuse its customers by delivering extraordinary customer experiences.
"And, to this day, as Harry Gordon Selfridge said, 'Everyone is welcome'".
Let's hope any potential new owner maintains that ethos.