Sears sells Shoe Express stores at pounds 33m loss

Philip Green, the retail entrepreneur, has taken a further step in the development of his mini-high street empire with the purchase of the Shoe Express stores from Sears. Sears will book a pounds 33m loss on the deal but Mr Green is confident he can turn the loss-making stores around. Nigel Cope, City Correspondent, reports.

Mr Green is buying 185 of the Shoe Express branches though it is not clear if he will retain the trading name or continue to run them as shoe shops. Between 75 and 100 of the stores will be converted to Mr Green's Mark One format which specialises in discounted women's fashion. A study will be undertaken to decide the best use of the remaining outlets.

The deal means Mr Green, a former chairman of the What Everyone Wants clothing chain, now controls Shoe Express, Mark One, five branches of the Owen Owen department stores and a stake of about 15 per cent in Sports Division, the sports group which acquired Olympus Sports from Sears. Sports Division is due to float on the stock market next spring. Asked about his burgeoning retail empire Mr Green, said: "It's progressing nicely."

Mr Green has also been tipped as a possible buyer of Shoe City, Sears' loss-making out-of-town shoe superstores. "Anything's possible," Mr Green said yesterday.

However, he said there were no plans to integrate the disparate interests into a single group. Each will retain separate management. Mr Green said: "The entrepreneurial element is in acquiring the business and knowing what to do with it when you've got it." He said the deal represented a short cut in his plans to expand Mark One. "To open 70 to 100 stores is two to three years work."

Alnery, a company controlled by Mr Green, is paying Sears pounds 8.5m for pounds 32.5m of assets. It will also manage the 136 remaining Shoe Express branches, which will be closed by Sears by the end of January. This will give rise to the loss of around 500 jobs.

The total cost to Sears of the disposal will be around pounds 65m, slightly less than expected. Shoe Express made losses of between pounds 17m and pounds 18m in the last year on sales of around pounds 165m.

Shoe Express has been a disaster for Sears' management. The cheap, self- service format was derived from a successful US equivalent and hailed as a potential saviour of the group's footwear operations. Founded in 1992, Sears spent millions on store conversions and promotions but it failed to take off.

The sale means Sears has only Shoe City and Cable & Co left to sell of its British Shoe Corporation subsidiary. Sears shares closed 2.5p up at 49.5p.