International trade buyers are circling struggling furniture retailer Habitat as its owner considers whether to sell the business.

A source close to the situation said retailers inside and outside the UK – some without experience of furniture retailing – are talking with parent ICAF Antillen, which also owns Swedish furniture giant Ikea. The source said private equity firms had also looked at the business.

He added that some of the trade buyers are backed by “a couple of very rich families”. The source said: “There are lots of interested parties but there will probably end up being three or four ICAF ultimately talks to seriously.”

It is understood that Habitat is trading positively, with like-for-likes soaring 52% last week. While chief executive Mark Saunders declined to confirm the figures he said he
is “happy with the numbers”.

He added: “It all looks encouraging. We’re going in the right direction.”

Preliminary talks – managed by Lazard – to look at selling the business were held in early August, although any sale is not a certainty. ICAF has tried to sell the business before without success.

“ICAF wants to sell it as a going concern,” the source said. “It has no appetite for a pre-pack or CVA.”

Last week Retail Week revealed that Dwell was interested in buying all or parts of the business. However, sources said it is unclear if Dwell’s interest is being considered, although Dwell managing director Aamir Ahmad said he remains committed to the prospect of a deal. Habitat business development manager Mauricio Solodujin and its head of retail partnership Karsten Friis Mondorf – who both dealt with franchise partnerships for the retailer – have left the business in recent weeks.

Saunders said he remains committed to the franchise side of the business. Habitat has recently opened stores in Iceland and will open shortly in Norway and Greece.

In the year to March 30, 2008, Habitat’s losses widened to £13.4m.