Three years is a long time in retail. Rewind to late 2013 and House of Fraser was looking to be refloated on the London Stock Exchange after a seven-year absence.

The IPO never happened, of course, and just months later the 167-year-old department store chain was snaffled by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower.  

Now with a revolving door in its boardroom and concerns over an alleged lack of investment, serious questions are being asked about how House of Fraser is being handled.

Sanpower is committed to supporting the business, House of Fraser has insisted. But the exit of highly regarded chief executive Nigel Oddy next year, will have caused significant reverberations.

As retail analyst Richard Hyman says: “You never get a revolving door for positive reasons.”

House of Fraser’s executive chairman Frank Slevin, who is attempting to steady the ship, has pointed to the fact the company has made a number of impressive hires this year.

But the latest development, revealed exclusively this week by Retail Week, will do nothing to dampen speculation about the future direction of House of Fraser.

Distribution rethink

As we report, the retailer has shelved plans for a major new distribution centre in Peterborough.

This would have been a significant investment, and an automated system seems essential to a modern digital business.

Hyman is particularly concerned about the possible issue of a lack of investment at House of Fraser. “Department stores are like black holes,” he says.

“They trade in these large buildings, which means that you need to invest in their fabric and that costs an awful lot of money.

“And when you think of the wafer-thin margins, you have to run pretty fast to keep all those plates spinning.”

Despite its UK issues, Sanpower is powering on with plans to open its first House of Fraser in China later this month. However, other international expansion has yet to materialise.

Will Sanpower continue to see mileage in the UK business, or will it eventually look to sell it and concentrate on making the House of Fraser name work overseas?

Or will House of Fraser merge with Debenhams, as my colleague John Ryan speculates?

With the current goings-on at the business, anything seems possible.