Co-op store buys helps Beales to double in size

The regional department store chain Beales is to more than double in size under a "transformational" deal unveiled yesterday to snap up 19 outlets.

The Bournemouth-based group is buying the stores from mutual group Anglia Regional Co-operative Society (Arcs) as part of aims to become a national brand.

It will leave Arcs with just four department stores as the co-operative looks to focus on food retailing, funerals and travel.

The £7.5m deal will boost the Beales store portfolio from 13 to 32.

Around 830 staff employed in the stores, including some head office workers, will transfer to Beales. The Arcs stores currently trade as Westgate, apart from one in Abingdon, near Oxford.

Tony Brown, Beales chief executive, said it was a "transformational deal for both businesses".

Beales, which operates largely in market towns across the UK, had planned to grow by one or two stores a year, but said the opportunity arose as Arcs wanted to refocus its business away from department stores.

But the deal comes at a time of increasing concern over consumer spending conditions following a flurry of profit warnings from major high street players in recent days.

Mr Brown said he hoped the group's positioning in local communities would help shield it from wider pressures on consumers.

"This is a plan for the long-term, so I'm not concerned about the current trading environment," he said. "We are a market town operator, not in the big cities, and people will be shopping locally more than ever before, because of the price of petrol."

But Beales has not been immune so far to the tougher trading, with recent like-for-like sales down 4.7 per cent. Losses at the group have improved, narrowing by 32 per cent to £670,000 for the year to 30 October, and Beales hopes today's takeover will help return it to profitability within 18 months to two years.

The deal has been structured as a reverse takeover and Arcs is providing upfront financing.