House of Fraser: Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley buys collapsing department store

Sports Direct founder said he aims to turn collapsed chain into 'Harrods of the High Street'

Caitlin Morrison
Friday 10 August 2018 11:05
House of Fraser to shut 31 stores and put 6,000 jobs at risk

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has bought department store chain House of Fraser, which collapsed into administration on Friday morning.

The discount sports retailer paid £90m in cash to buy the high street group, which includes all of its UK stores, the branding and all of its stock.

Mr Ashley said: “This is a massive step forward and further enhances our strategy of elevation across the group. This will benefit both House of Fraser and Flannels (also owned by Sports Direct) in the luxury sector. We will do our best to keep as many stores open as possible.

"It is vital that we restore the right level of ongoing relationships with the luxury brands. Our deal was conservative, consistent and simple. My ambition is to transform House of Fraser into Harrods of the High Street.”

House of Fraser has 59 shops across the UK and Ireland, including 31 already earmarked for closure, and employs 17,500 people. The House of Fraser store in Dublin was not included in the deal.

The group announced in June that it was shutting down a raft of shops, putting 6,000 jobs at risk, after the cost of running its store network had become “unsustainable”.

On Friday, administrators from EY were called in, and reports emerged that the Sports Direct founder, who also owns Newcastle United football club, was close to buying all or part of the retailer. The deal was confirmed hours after House of Fraser collapsed.

Alan Hudson, one of the joint administrators from EY, said: “We have worked very closely with management, its advisers and creditors in recent weeks and are pleased that we have been able to successfully conclude a sale of the business in short timescales, which preserves as many of the jobs of House of Fraser employees as possible.

“It was a challenging transaction to achieve in such a short period of tim,e which will ensure continuity of the business and preserve the goodwill. We hope that this will give the business the stable financial platform that it requires to flourish in the current retail environment.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Conservative “inaction” had “prepared the ground for the likes of Mike Ashley to hoover up businesses,” Sky News reported.

Michael Mulligan, insolvency specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said: “Now that Sports Direct has acquired the House of Fraser brand – including all of the stock in the business – it will allow continued operation with a likely focus on the flagship stores.

“This will be welcome news not only for suppliers who rely on House of Fraser for their livelihoods, but also for all employees involved.”

He added: “This is yet another significant high street rescue mission, and the crisis shows no sign of abating. With interest rates rising and less money in the pocket of the UK consumer, more household names may be at risk.”

Sports Direct was already an investor in House of Fraser, and is also the biggest shareholder in Debenhams, holding almost 30 per cent of shares in the retailer.

It increased its stake in the store earlier this year, and its portion of the company is now close to the level at which Sports Direct will be forced to mount a takeover bid.

The sporting goods chain recently reported a 73 per cent drop in profits due to the poor performance of Debenhams.

Shares in Sports Direct edged down after the announcement.

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