Hinchliffe makes move into Europe

NIGEL COPE

Stephen Hinchliffe's fast expanding Facia group, made its first move on the Continent yesterday when it acquired a German shoe chain, Bata Schuhe. Though the purchase price was not disclosed it is thought to have been a discount to the company's net asset value of pounds 12m. Bata has 110 shops and sales of around pounds 50m but made a small loss last year.

There has been speculation for some time that Mr Hinchliffe may be about to expand into Europe. However, most analysts believed the company already had a heavy workload digesting the myriad of acquisitions it has made in the last year.

Mr Hinchliffe now controls Sock Shop, Salisbury's, Oakland menswear and Red or Dead as well as a raft of shoe shops including Saxone, Freeman Hardy Willis and Curtess. His latest deal gives Facia more than 1,000 shops with combined sales of pounds 350m and 8,400 employees.

The company says it intends to change the name of the German chain to one of its UK brands, with Saxone the most likely. The name has some prominence there as a shoe brand.

Mr Hinchliffe said: "We have always intended to make inroads into Europe as quickly as possible. Initially we thought that franchise operations would be the fastest route and we are making progress on that front in a number of countries, but have kept our eyes open for suitable acquisitions to accelerate the process."

He added that further European acquisitions and franchise deals could not be ruled out. A UK womenswear chain is still n the shopping list.

Facia's chief operating office Gary O'Brien said the German deal would help the group's UK operations by opening up fresh avenues of supply and distribution. He added that the German operation had its own management team in place and so would not be a drain on Facia's resources. "We anticipate that the German company can undertake many of the functions presently requiring visits to the Continent from the UK."

Facia is due to file its first set of accounts in April. The accounts will cover the period between August 1994, when the company acquired Salisbury's, to January 1995.

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