Debenhams is in negotiations with potential franchise partners to open stores in Russia after putting plans for the country on hold last year.

International director Francis McAuley told delegates at the Retail Week Conference that the department store group had chosen the wrong partner when it had initially pushed into the country.

Russia has proved a successful market for retailers including fashion specialists Peacocks and Karen Millen, but the country has been plagued by stories of corruption and security issues.

McAuley would not be drawn on the reasons behind Debenhams’ decision to end its relationship with its former partner.

If talks are successful with new partners, Debenhams could sign
a deal in the next three months and open a store in Russia by spring 2010.

“We dipped our toe in the water in Russia and it was too cold,”
said McAuley.

He advised retailers to spend time getting to know franchise partners and doing due diligence before agreeing to work with them.

He said that as a department store group operating franchises in 17 countries with 12 partners, mistakes will be made “at some point”.

The retailer, which opened a store in Iran eight weeks ago, is poised to open a “couple” more in the country over the next 18 months. McAuley said that the Iranian store has become the retailer’s strongest by sales density store outside the UK. Debenhams is also exploring opening in Korea and Vietnam.

In the meantime, the retailer is concentrating on infilling in countries in Central Europe and North Africa.

McAuley added that Debenhams was “staying away from China” as the size of the country and variation in body shapes present a logistical nightmare for the department store model, which has a 50 per cent
concession mix.