Last month, rumours began to ripple that Selfridges, the department store business with landmarks in London, Manchester and Dublin, was for sale. Yesterday (25 July) it was confirmed that the billionaire Weston family, which owns Selfridges, has launched a formal auction to sell the business for at least £4 billion, which is being managed by Credit Suisse.
A mystery buyer has reportedly come forward – but who?
The Weston family took Selfridges private in 2003 for £598 million, in a sale led by billionaire Canadian businessman W. Galen Weston. The announcement of the auction comes just weeks after his death and sources say he would have been fiercely opposed to the sale. Weston once said 'to be a retailer is an addiction' and often showed up unannounced to inspect the store. A family business through-and-through, the Selfridges Group is run by Alannah Weston, 49, who has been the store’s creative director since 2018.
The department store was founded by flamboyant businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1908, seeing him dubbed the 'showman of shopping'. The 60,000 sq ft emporium on Oxford Street is now accompanied by stores in Dublin, Birmingham and Manchester, and Selfridges also owns international high-end chains, Holt Renfrew in Canada and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands. The Weston family reportedly has a net worth of £11 billion, with a portfolio that also includes Primark, Twinings, Jordans and Ryvita.
Prior to the pandemic, sales at Selfridges were reportedly up seven per cent to £1.97 billion. It has, however, been a challenging year for bricks-and-mortar retail. Nevertheless, the department has remained resilient, investing in online capabilities and setting up impressive initiatives including the Project Earth sustainability campaign, which is committed to changing the way we shop by 2025. Most recently, it partnered with Dior on a new rooftop restaurant and began offering on-site weddings.
Potential bidders include Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, such as the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority or the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The Qataris already own Harrods, but would they want a second department store? Lane Crawford, the Chinese department store business based in Hong Kong, is also a rumoured interested party.
Sources advise that two suitors have already expressed interest in the sale. Others speculate that it might all just be a PR stunt. Watch this space.