Sunday News Roundup
Hunters secret role in rescue, Investor dips toe in water, Evans rides cycling boom, Kuwaitis keep Little Chef on road, Struggling Tesco clicks with online customers, Wait in lounge: how Heathrow cashes in on wealthy time-poor travellers, Entrepreneurs are giving vintage ice-cream vans a new lease of life, Cinemas beat expectations as Britons flock to see blockbusters, Gym bosses warm up for battle over VAT burden, Cad and the Dandy: tailor made for our times, Co-operative food brand gets an overhaul, Horrockses in high street revival, JD Wetherspoon and Spirit Group admit most of their staff is on 'zero hour' contracts, Battle of the supermarket top bananas, French Connection to axe its Tegan Fashion brand as it tries to stabilise profits
The rescue of Optical Express was secretly backed by Sir Tom Hunter, once considered Scotland’s richest man. Hunter put up some of the money that enabled the founder, David Moulsdale, to hang on to the optician and laser eye surgery chain after Royal Bank of Scotland threatened to seize control. The bank, which had already lent £30m, became concerned that the business was spiralling out of control after Moulsdale asked for an emergency loan to pay wages. Hunter, whose fortune was ravaged by the financial crisis, is understood to have lent Moulsdale roughly half the money needed to buy out RBS. It is thought the bank’s loans were acquired for a fraction of their face value.
The upmarket swimwear maker Orlebar Brown has secured an £8m investment from Piper, the private equity firm best known for backing Boden clothing. Piper has acquired a “significant” minority stake in the maker of posh trunks, which sell for as much as £225 and have been worn by stars such as the actor Hugh Jackman. Orlebar Brown was founded in 2007 by Adam Brown and Julia Simpson-Orlebar. Today it has three standalone boutiques and sells in department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges.
The growing popularity of cycling lifted sales at the bike shop chain Evans by 9% last year, new figures show. Annual sales at Evans, second only to Halfords in the market for bikes, topped £100m for the first time. Majority owned by the venture capital group Active since 2008, it clocked up operating profits of £600,000 in the 53 weeks to last November — half the total for the previous year. Pre-tax profit fell over 50% to £323,000, but the company said that was due to the cost of expansion and developing its online business.
A Middle East fast food group moves in to save motorists’ restaurant chain The Little Chef chain, whose restaurants have been serving up giant greasy breakfasts and stacks of pancakes to British motorists for more than half a century, has been saved from the scrapheap by a foreign investor. Kout Food Group, a Kuwaiti restaurant business that owns a number of western fast-food franchises in the Gulf state, has this weekend snapped up the 55-year-old roadside dining chain.
Tesco is the only supermarket to have increased its share of the online grocery market in the past year, according to industry data, suggesting Britain’s biggest retailer is extending its dominance beyond the high street. The store’s share of internet grocery shopping rose by 2.4 percentage points in the first 19 weeks of the year, according to Kantar Worldpanel, the research firm. It now takes almost 50p of every £1 spent on online food shopping.
Heathrow made £542m from its retail outlets last year, and this is growing as designer brands move in to target rich overseas passengers. At Heathrow alone, 70 million passengers a year with an hour or so to kill add up to serious spending power. So popular are the airport's shops that last year sales per square foot at its retail outlets hit a staggering £2,782 – making it one of the most productive shopping destinations in the country. By comparison, Oxford Street's Selfridges took around £1,500 per square foot in the same period, and Harrods in Knightsbridge a relatively paltry £1,000.
The fashion designer Henry Holland has transformed a former ice-cream van, now called Mr Quiffy in a reference to his hairstyle, into his new flagship store in which he intends to tour Britain. Instead of cones and lollies he will sell House of Holland clothes including shorts, T-shirts and accessories, with prices ranging from £15 to £150.
Movie blockbusters, including Man of Steel, Les Miserables and Iron Man 3, helped box office takings at British cinemas to smash expectations and rise 8.5 per cent to £578.7m in the first half of this year.Rupert Gavin, the chief executive of Odeon Cinemas, said predictions that the growth of online movie download services would damage cinema attendance have not proved correct.
The fitness industry is limbering up for a campaign to cut taxes on gym membership, arguing a move could reduce the strain on the National Health Service. Bosses want keep-fit enthusiasts to be exempt from the standard 20 per cent VAT rate, which is levied on monthly subscriptions.
Cad and the Dandy owners explain how they are reinvigorating bespoke shoes and clothes. Making shoes for the Fastest Milkman in the West is certainly a talking point, but it wasn’t quite what James Sleater and Ian Meiers had in mind when they bought Wildsmith. The boss of the luxury shoe business, John Wildsmith, had assured them that the 166-year-old brand had some famous former customers. But the young entrepreneurs didn't recognise any of the first 10 names Wildsmith offered them. “Then he said Benny Hill,” says Sleater.
The Co-operative Group is overhauling its own-brand food range as part of a drive to put its misfiring retail business back on track.The revamp of the range is the latest example of how own-brand ranges have become the key battleground for supermarket retailers after a week when Tesco and Sainsbury's have been locked in battle over the price and quality of their food. The Co-op is to rename its own-brand range "Loved by Us", with as many as 700 lines launched by Christmas and the first new products arriving in stores from September.
The women's fashion label Horrockses, famous for its 1950s-style dresses, will attempt a high street revival to capitalise on the vogue for vintage styles popularised by the TV drama Mad Men.The brand has been acquired for a six-figure sum by Bluewell Ventures in an auction after the previous owners, Dawson International Holdings, went into administration last year. It means Horrockses will return to Manchester, where it made iconic designs that were worn by the Queen and Princess Margaret, among others. Original dresses can fetch more than £200 on eBay.
Mail on Sunday
Two of Britain’s biggest pub chains have become the latest to admit that the vast majority of workers are on controversial zero-hour contracts. JD Wetherspoon and Spirit Group admitted to The Mail on Sunday that between them they have more than 30,000 staff on zero-hour terms – under which staff are not guaranteed work and often receive short notice of whatever hours they get. The contracts hit headlines last week when it emerged that leading retailer Sports Direct, cinema chain Cineworld and even Buckingham Palace had staff on zero hours.
Sainsbury's and Tesco on brink of a legal clash over their banana price match claims, Sainsbury’s is considering taking a fight over Tesco’s advertising to a Judicial Review after its complaint was rejected by the advertising watchdog last week. The supermarket complained that Tesco was misleading customers with its advertising by saying its own brand products were cheaper. Sainsbury’s claimed the comparison was inaccurate, as in many cases its products were superior. But the Advertising Standards Authority threw out the complaint, ruling last week that Tesco’s claims were fair.
Fashion chain French Connection is to jettison its Tegan Fashion brand just 18 months after it was launched. The Tegan brand trades from its own website, which will be shut down within weeks. The closure is part of an ongoing turnround of the group designed to stabilise profits.
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