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Hinchliffe buys Sears shoe chains

Some of Britain's best known shoe shops changed hands yesterday when the Freeman Hardy Willis, Trueform and Manfield chains were sold to Facia, the fast-growing retail group run by the Sheffield entrepreneur, Stephen Hinchliffe. The stores were sold by Sears, the retail group, for an undisclosed sum believed to be less than pounds 3m. Around 250 shops are involved.

Mr Hinchliffe, who only started buying up faded retail formats a year ago, now has around 800 shops, the tenth largest group in the high street. He has also acquired Sock Shop, the Salisbury luggage chain, Oakland menswear, Torq jewellers, Red or Dead, the design group, and Contessa, the lingerie chain previously owned by Courtaulds Textiles.

Mr Hinchliffe, who is also believed to be interested in acquiring a womenswear chain, said other deals were likely: "The acquisition trail does not end here." He is acquiring pounds 11m of assets and sales of pounds 75m under the terms of the deal. Facia's group sales will now rise to around pounds 250m.

Though the shops were believed to be losing around pounds 7m under the Sears regime, Mr Hinchliffe said they would make significant profits this year because Facia had a lower cost base. He added that there were synergies between the shoe shops and other parts of the group, such as Red or Dead and Sock Shop.

Central support for the shoe business will be provided by Sears's British Shoe subsidiary for up to a year.

Mr Hinchliffe's strategy has mystified retail experts, who see little connection between the brands. One said yesterday: "Many of these brands are a bit tired and people's views of retail brands do not change very quickly." Another said Mr Hinchliffe's expansion had caused "gasps of amazement" from retail watchers.

Mr Hinchliffe says he may float the business on the stock market but is in no hurry to do so. The deals have been financed from what he describes as "our own resources". Mr Hinchliffe led a management buy-out of the Wades department stores in 1984. He was later chairman of James Wilkes, a Sheffield engineering company.

Sears has been reducing the number of shoe formats in its portfolio to concentrate on fast growing concepts such as Shoe Express, Hush Puppy and Shoe City.

Comment , page 17

High Street numbers

Chain No. of shops

Sears 2,844

Boots 2,468

Kingfisher 2,176

Burton 2,036

Thresher 1,605

Victoria Wine 1,526

Lloyds Chemist 1,200

Kwik Save 978

WH Smith 928

Facia 800