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Selfridges sold for £4bn to Thai-Austrian alliance

Published 24 December 2021

Shoppers walk past Selfridge's flagship store on London's Oxford Street. Image source, Reuters

British luxury department store chain Selfridges is being sold to a Thai retailer and an Austrian property firm.

The deal for the majority of Selfridges Group is worth around £4bn ($5.4bn), the BBC understands.

Founded in 1908 by US retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge, the company is best known for its flagship department store on London's Oxford Street.

The Canadian wing of the billionaire Weston family bought Selfridges for nearly £600m in 2003.

"It is a privilege to be acquiring Selfridges Group, including the flagship Oxford Street store, which has been at the centre of London's most famous shopping street for over 100 years," Central Group's chief executive Tos Chirathivat said in a statement.

It was revealed earlier this month that Central Group was close to agreeing a deal to take over Selfridges.

Selfridges Group employs around 10,000 people and owns 25 stores worldwide, including in major cities in England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada.

Signa and Central will take over 18 of the 25 stores. Selfridges Group's seven Holt Renfrew department stores in Canada were not part of the deal and will remain in the ownership of the Weston family.

Selfridges' new owners said they plan to build on the existing brand to develop luxury online stores as well as improving its physical sites.

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"Together we will work with the world's leading architects to sensitively reimagine the stores in each location, transforming these iconic destinations into sustainable, energy-efficient, modern spaces, whilst staying true to their architectural and cultural heritage," Signa's chairman Dieter Berninghaus said.

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Analysis box by Katie Prescott, Business correspondent

Unique Brand

Selfridges is known for its bright yellow cardboard bags and its flagship store on London's Oxford Street is a magnet for shoppers and tourists alike.

Home to luxury brands, a visit is just as much about the experience and beautiful displays as what it is selling.

It even inspired a TV series about the American founder Harry Selfridge, who decided to build the "biggest and finest" department store in the world in 1908.

Now that "big, fine brand" and its buildings have brought its owners, the Weston family, a £4bn Christmas present.

Chief Executive of rival Fenwick, John Edgar, a former chief financial officer at the Selfridges Group, described it as a "great price for a fantastic business"

Analysts say that despite the well-publicised woes of retail through the pandemic, this sale shows that the Selfridges brand is unique. And it also underlines just how popular UK property still remains with international investors.

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The Weston family - which also owns Fortnum Mason and has majority control of Primark owner ABF - launched the sales process in June, a few months after the death of W Galen Weston, who oversaw the move to take the department store.

Alannah Weston, chair of Selfridges Group and daughter of Galen Weston, said the move is testament to her "father's vision for an iconic group of beautiful, truly experiential, department stores".

"Creative thinking has been at the heart of everything we did together for nearly twenty years and sustainability is deeply embedded in the business," she added.

Central, which is owned by the billionaire Chirathivat family, is involved in wide range of businesses including real estate, retail, hospitality and restaurants.

The Bangkok-based firm opened its first department store in 1956 and has grown to become Thailand's biggest owner of shopping malls.

It also has an e-commerce joint venture with China's JD.com and a stake in south east Asian ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab.

Selfridges Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Selfridges' Oxford Street store once had 100 departments, including a library and shooting range.

Vienna-based Signa Group was founded by entrepreneur René Benko in 2000 and has become Austria's largest privately owned real estate company.

The two firms already jointly own major department stores across Europe.

The Central-Signa 50/50 bid reportedly beat rival offers from the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns Harrods, and Lane Crawford, a Hong Kong-based department store chain.

Before the impact of the pandemic, Selfridges had doubled its profits and reported sales growth of more than 80% since being taken over by the Westons.

The family has received more than £580m in dividends from the business over the past decade, but also injected investment into improving the store's experience, with new concepts including an indoor skate park at its London store.

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