House of Fraser plans pounds 300m expansion

House of Fraser is planning to open another 30 department stores as part of an ambitious pounds 300m expansion plan, in a move designed to seal the recovery of the up-market department store operator after years in the doldrums.

The group has recently contacted property agents around the country to find a host of new sites for its opening programme. It already plans to open three stores over the next few years, including sites in Reading, Solihull and a large store at Bluewater Park, a huge new shopping centre complex soon to open near the proposed Channel Tunnel link. It has also identified another 27 towns and cities where it would like a presence.

These include Oxford, Cambridge, York and Chester, where HoF believes the relatively affluent residents will support a new department store. The group is also keen to build its market in the South-east, particularly in East Anglia and Essex. HoF is even contemplating a come back in several towns where it was forced to leave due to poor trading, such as Newcastle.

Analysts estimate that each new store could cost around pounds 10m to build, meaning that the HoF is likely to spend at least pounds 300m on new stores. Its total expenditure will be much higher than this as it has also embarked on a wide-ranging refurbishment programme designed to turn around ailing stores.

The new stores will be called House of Fraser rather than its other trading names, such as Army & Navy, DH Evans and Barkers, which are deemed less likely to succeed.

John Coleman, chief executive of HoF said: "I am very positive about the group's future and this is an exciting programme. We have found the stores we want to keep from our existing portfolio and now are in expansion mode."

In its heyday HoF had more than 100 stores but it has now scaled back to half that number.

However, investors' fears resurfaced last week due to disappointing sales last autumn and in the run up to Christmas, which saw the shares fall more than 14 per cent in two days.