Hunter tries new shoes on for size

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The Independent Online

Scottish retail and property entrepreneur Tom Hunter is to launch a new mid-market shoe chain within weeks.

Earlier this year Mr Hunter bought Office, an upper-mid-market shoe chain, for a rumoured £15m. Mr Hunter's purchase of Office came amid several high-profile attempts to gain control of department store chains House of Fraser, Selfridges and Allders.

He is using Office's expertise to create a new brand, with shoes that will be less expensive than the parent company's.It will be launched in the next few weeks and will start rolling out in 57 of Mr Hunter's d2 clothing chain stores over the next six months. The first stand-alone store is expected to be unveiled in February.

Office's managing director, Richard Wharton, said the new chain would be "like Dolcis used to be". Mr Hunter said the brand should ultimately have more stores than Office as it will have wider appeal.

Office has 23 stores and the group plans to double the number using cash from Mr Hunter's private equity company, West Coast Capital.

"We want to get Office to 40 or 50 stores without bastardising the brand and diluting the feel of the whole stores, but there are a lot of cities we are not in," said Mr Wharton. New stores will be rolled out in "vibrant" cities like Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol. He said that Office had not made a loss since the 1980s and last year made a profit of £1.6m.

Mr Hunter said the relatively small number of Office stores had made it attractive as a purchase because of the potential for expansion. It is, he explained, "one of those brands that you think is more like a nationwide brand".