Retail round up - The Sunday papers
Chinese firm ready to swoop on Aquascutum, Former Woolies chief aims to bring back pick and mix, Shoe repairer Timpson enjoys a good recession, Blacks buys time from Banks...The Sunday Times
Aquascutum's owner is believed to be in talks to sell the brand to YGM Trading. It emerged on Friday that Kim Winser, the British boss of Aquascutum, has quit after failing in a rival bid that she had spent 12 months trying to negotiate. According to sources at Daiwa Securities, the bank that is handling the sale, the talks with YGM are at a delicate stage. Aquascutum has been owned for the past 19 years by the Japanese company Renown, but the group has been experiencing financial difficulties and is keen to raise cash. The impending sale has caused huge anxiety within Aquascutum, particularly over the future of its factory in Corby, Northampton-shire, where 120 people are employed making the group's expensive clothing. Lord Mandelson, secretary of state for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, is taking a close interest in the matter, and through the British ambassador in Japan has contacted Renown to ensure British jobs will be protected. The government is also thought to have notified David Norgrove, the pensions regulator. Aquascutum, which employs 400 people in the UK and has annual sales of about £200m, is thought to be faced with a sizeable deficit in its pension fund. Norgrove will want to ensure that some of the sale proceeds are used to reduce this deficit.
A former boss of Woolworths is trying to raise funds to buy back scores of its vacant stores. Tony Page, who used to be managing director of the stores chain, has teamed up with Gareth Thomas, a former UBS banker, to raise between £5m and £10m to finance a “land grab” to buy up the old shops. Page wants to bring back a Woolies-style store to the high street, selling toys, pick-and-mix sweets and everyday essentials. The funding would finance the opening of 200 outlets in five years.This week Page will approach a number of wealthy private investors and private-equity firms to seek support for his plan. Last week Page and his team spent one day visiting Wellworths, the variety store in Dorchester, Dorset, set up by former Woolworths manager Claire Robertson when her local Woolies closed down. The shop has been a roaring success and Robertson said profits were higher now than when it traded as Woolworths.
The Mail on Sunday
Shoe repair chain Timpson has just released annual accounts that show a dip in pre tax profits from £10.6m to £8.3m while turnover increased from £92.3m to £94.2m. The company expanded last year opening about 40 shops and acquiring dry cleaning business Persil Services. Since the financial year end the privately owned firm has also bought photo retailer Max Spielmann with 187 High Street shops. Chairman John Timpson said “We're a useful and pretty essential service which is a good place to be when times are tough - people have to get things repaired.”
Outdoor clothing specialist Blacks Leisure is this week expected to reveal an £8million loss as it pushes for banks to agree renewed borrowing terms. After an inquiry by Financial Mail on Friday, Blacks issued a three-line statement to the London Stock Exchange saying it had agreed with Lloyds Banking Group to extend terms for three months. The three-month standstill gives the firm breathing space to try to avoid the banks taking more stringent action. In the past four years the chain, which owns Millets, has issued a series of profits warnings, been forced to scrap plans to sell its boardwear division and has made little profit. Blacks hopes to agree a 12-month facility, once it has proved that it can restructure surfwear chains Freespirit and O'Neill and return to profit. City analysts expect Blacks to make further losses in the financial year ending in February. Hopes of a bid were dashed in March when reported interest failed to materialise from Ashley, private equity firm Lion Capital and activist shareholder Principle Capital, which owns 27 per cent.
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