Thorn EMI buys US rental outlets

DAVID HELLIER

Thorn EMI, the music publisher, retail and rentals company, yesterday completed the acquisition of two Rent-A-Center franchise operations in the US.

Thorn Americas, the company's rental-purchase American subsidiary based in Wichita, Kansas, bought the stock of Advantage Companies Inc and Tidewater Rental Corporation for a total cash consideration of pounds 65.7m.

Thorn Americas claims to be the largest rental-purchase operation in the US. Rental-purchase involves consumers renting goods initially. After a period the ownership reverts to the consumer.

Thorn started getting involved in rental-puchase when it acquired some of the Rent-A-Center stores in 1987. The stores rent out household goods, furniture, videos and computers.

The main core of the business is company-owned, although there are also a proportion of franchised outlets.

Following these latest transactions Thorn now has 1,232 Rent-A-Center stores, of which 1,173 are company-owned and 59 franchised.

The latest deals are part of a continuing development of Thorn's rentals business, which will at some point this year become a separately quoted company if Sir Colin Southgate's plans to demerge the whole group come off. Under the plan, Thorn EMI will become two quoted companies; one mainly involved in the rentals business and the other essentially a music retailer and publisher under the EMI and HMV names.

The company said yesterday that the latest US transactions would have taken place regardless of the company's plan to demerge.

A spokesman said: "It is expected that the board will be in a position to reach and announce a decision [on the demerger] in the early part of this year."

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