Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group said it is in negotiations to buy collapsed department store chain Debenhams from administrators in a rescue deal, which would further extend the retail billionaire’s reach in the British high street.
Frasers, formerly Sports Direct, said that it hoped a deal could be agreed and jobs at Debenhams saved after the COVID-19 pandemic sunk its business, but cautioned that the transaction was complicated and talks needed to take place quickly.
A former shareholder in Debenhams, Ashley’s Frasers Group has long-been linked to its rescue. Administrators for Debenhams said last week it would be wound-down, closing all its shops after 242 years in business and putting 12,000 jobs at risk.
That came a day after Topshop-owner Arcadia Group collapsed into administration.
Arcadia is the biggest concession operator in Debenhams, accounting for about 5% of Debenhams’ sales, and its collapse looks to have been the final straw for Debenhams.
Frasers said in its statement on Monday that Arcadia’s collapse was a further complicating factor in any potential rescue deal for Debenhams.
“There is no certainty that any transaction will take place,particularly if discussions cannot be concluded swiftly,” Frasers said in its statement.
Enforced closure during the pandemic plus the resultant shift to online sales has hammered many British retailers, with several collapsing last week alone.
But Frasers Group has been a rare bright spot, forecasting growth despite COVID-19. Ashley, a former squash coach who owns 64% of Frasers Group as well as Newcastle Football Club, has spent recent years buying up much of the UK high street.
His long-stated desire is to make Frasers the “Selfridges of sport”, emulating the status of the London department store.
Buying other businesses and strategic stakes forms part of that plan. This year Frasers has purchased stakes in luxury brand Mulberry and German fashion house Hugo Boss.
Frasers said last week that should Arcadia Group enter administration, which it has since done, it would be interested in participating in any sale process.