Edinburgh Woollen Mill in shock Jane Norman bid

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The Independent Online

Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) is a surprise bidder for troubled women’s fashion chain Jane Norman, which is likely to be sold over the next 72 hours.

The Scottish clothing group, which has more than 500 stores, is among the front runners, along with Debenhams, which houses Jane Norman concessions in its department stores.

A consortium of 15 banks hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to run a process to sell Jane Norman this month after a troubled few years for the chain.

The private equity firm Sun Capital Partners is also believed to still be interested in acquiring Jane Norman.

The purchase price for the stricken chain – which has 90 standalone stores and a similar number of concessions, largely in Debenhams – is likely to be low, if not a nominal one. This is because Jane Norman has debts of £140m, on sales at a similar level.

The fact that EWM is in advanced talks to acquire the women’s chain is somewhat of a surprise, as it targets 45-plus men and women with its knitwear, fleeces and shirts. Jane Norman’s typical customer is aged 16 to 25.

But the Dumfriesshire-based group has a track record in acquiring and integrating troubled retailers.

In early 2008, it bought the assets of soft furnishing chain Ponden Mill, including 43 stores, and then later that year acquired 77 from the former

Rosebys stores. It rebranded these two chains as Ponden Home with 150 stores. EWM also bought Proquip, the golfing waterproof clothing specialist.

The Scottish group – which delivered pre-tax profits of £22.5m in the year to 27 February 2010 – would seek to keep Jane Norman’s presence on the high street.

Debenhams has only bid for Jane Norman’s brand and stock and not its standalone shops. While it has offered to buy some of Jane Norman’s stock – at a sizeable discount – in its high street shops, Debenhams’ core focus is the fashion chain’s profitable concessions in stores.

The retail stalwart has the benefit of a change-of-ownership clause in its contract, which means it could terminate Jane Norman’s concession agreement if the business is sold to a third party.

Sun Capital owns V&D, a Dutch department-store that houses some Jane Norman concessions.

All the parties mentioned declined to comment.