Olympus sale costs Sears pounds 35m

NIGEL COPE

Sears, the Selfridges to Freemans catalogue group, has lost pounds 35m on the sale of the Olympus Sports chain, after an attempt to reposition the stores failed.

Sears sold Olympus yesterday to a group controlled by Philip Green, former chairman of Amber Day, the What Everyone Wants discount retail chain.

Mr Green is paying pounds 25m for the group, but Sears' total loss on the disposal will be pounds 35m including a goodwill write-off of pounds 5m. Mr Green has combined with a Scottish retailer, Sports Division, to buy the stores through a private company, Mayfind.

Olympus has128 high street branches as well as 22 out-of- town superstores and 55 in-store concessions. Sports Division has 45 stores and is run by Tom Hunter, who will take over the day-to-day running of the Olympus chain. Mr Green will be chairman

Mr Green plans to increase the stores' focus on big sports brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas. "This is a big brand business," he said. "This is a big opportunity and it [Olympus] needs a bit of love, care and attention. Sometimes that isn't possible inside a large corporation."

Sears has been looking to focus on a smaller number of retail formats and has already sold the Freeman Hardy Willis chain of shoe shops. Other disposals are expected.

It had tried to reposition the Olympus chain with a redesign and a shift to out-of-town stores but the group continued to make losses. Last year Sears' sports and leisure division, which also includes the profitable Millets chain, made a loss of pounds 2m on sales of pounds 205m.

City analysts supported the deal but said Olympus would need to have more to its strategy than just a big brand offer, where margins are lower.

John Richards, retail analyst at NatWest Securities, said: "Olympus is a good brand. It always was. But Sears failed to exploit it."

Mr Green is fast developing a large stable of retail formats. Last year he took control of the Owen Owen chain of 13 department stores. He is also chairman of Xceptions, a chain of discount stores. In July he acquired the bank debt of Owen & Robinson, which owns Foothold, a sports footwear chain.

Sears shares closed up 1.5p at 102.5p.

Comments