Debenhams yesterday tabled a bid to acquire the stock and brand of the troubled women's fashion retailer Jane Norman, as the latter faces a huge quarterly rent payment tomorrow.
The 15 banks behind Jane Norman put the chain up for sale this month by hiring PricewaterhouseCoopers, and are keen to complete a deal in the coming days. The company is due to pay its third-quarter rent bill tomorrow and it is unclear if its lenders have the appetite for such a payment.
Debenhams wants to keep the profitable Jane Norman concessions trading in its department stores, but it has no interest in acquiring the chain's 91 high-street branches.
In addition to stock held in the concessions, Debenhams is also thought to have offered to buy – at a sizeable discount – some of the stock in Jane Norman's standalone shops.
The department store has the benefit of a change-of-ownership clause in its contract, which means it could terminate Jane Norman's concession contract if the business is sold to a third party.
While Debenhams appears to be in pole position to bag Jane Norman, a deal is by no means certain. Other unnamed bidders may yet come through to rescue the chain at the 11th hour.
However, Aurora Fashions, the company behind Coast, Oasis and Warehouse, appears unlikely to make a bid. Retail-restructuring companies are also circling Jane Norman. All the parties mentioned declined to comment yesterday.
Formerly backed by the defunct Icelandic investor Baugur, Jane Norman is labouring under debts of £140m, on sales at a similar level.
Debenhams has previously acquired the assets of other former concession partners – such as the womenswear retailer Principles and the footwear business Faith – and taken them out of administration over the past two years.