Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley is believed to be on the brink of adding Northeastern mini-chain Van Mildert to his fledgling branded fashion portfolio as he seeks to replicate the success of rival JD Sports.

Buying Van Mildert will give Sports Direct access to an upmarket customer

Ashley, who on Wednesday paid £7m for USC and designer chain Cruise from Sir Tom Hunter, is said to be plotting to bolt on a raft of premium retail businesses to his discount-led Sports Direct chain.

He is expected to stalk premium brands, which he intends to drop into USC as an own-label offer. He has ring-fenced £20m to invest in strengthening the new premium lifestyle division.

Ashley’s next deal is likely to see him add six Van Mildert stores and the Box Clothing and Tucci stores in the Northeast to his portfolio. That would buy him the expertise of the retailer’s owners Cyril and Eric Williams.

The Williams brothers have a strong relationship with Hunter, who under the USC and Cruise deal will stay on as executive chairman.

Hunter, who declined to comment on a potential purchase of Van Mildert, said of the deal with Sports Direct: “This is an opportunity to build a bigger and better business.”

Hunter added: “Judge us on our actions. Mike [Ashley] may be a lot of things, but he isn’t stupid. He is not going to put day-glo Sale posters in the windows of Cruise. The businesses will be kept independent with strategic input from Sports Direct. We have the fire power to go and do what we want with the opportunities [out there].”

Analysts welcomed Sports Direct’s acquisition. Oriel’s Jonathan Pritchard said: “The deal gives Sports Direct access to an upmarket customer base and is about re-invigorating brands and sharing distribution and logistical know-how.”