Sears `inundated' with offers for shoe businesses

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Sears says it has been inundated with offers for its ailing footwear businesses which were placed in the hands of a company doctor in May.

The offers include two for the entire group which spans Dolcis, Shoe Express, Shoe City and Cable & Co. One offer is from an overseas retailer.

The other is thought to be from a UK financial buyer. Sears says that it has also received "hundreds" of expressions of interest for various parts of the group.

However, the company has not disclosed the price tags attached to the bids. Given the scale of British Shoe Corporation's losses it is thought that the chains will attract bargain basement valuations even though they have high market shares and well-known brand names.

Clarks, the Somerset-based shoe manufacturer and retailer, could be interested in Shoe City, the large out-of-town shoe chain, as Clarks is under-represented outside of traditional high street locations.

Stylo, which has already acquired the Saxon and Hush Puppy chains from Sears, could be interested in the Sears stores business which operates concessions in department stores.

David James, the corporate rescue specialist, who was appointed chairman of the British Shoe in May, is waiting for the management of the individual formats to complete their revised business plans.

He will then decide on the level of investment needed to support these proposals. Mr James and his team are also compiling external sales memoranda for each division. However, he says that "no decision has been reached by Sears on whether to sell all or any of the business".

He says he has not been approached by any of the management about a possible buyout. No bid has been received from Rebecca Cotterell, the former managing director of British Shoe who stepped down earlier this year. There has been speculation that she is interested in leading a bid.

Mr James says he has been pleased with the progress made so far.

"I'm delighted at the response from management and have been impressed by their creativity."

There have so far been no shop closures or redundancies.

Once a powerhouse of the UK footwear market, British show Corporation has been on the slide for years.

Though the former chief executive, Liam Strong, slimmed the group from 14 formats to four during his troubled five-year tenure, the business made a loss of pounds 9m last year compared with a profit of pounds 7.5m in 1995.

JP Morgan, a merchant bank, has been appointed to examine the feasibility of selling the whole group or attracting new investors.

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