A disposal of Kaufhof, which has 126 shops in Germany and 15 in Belgium, was mooted earlier this year, but the appointment of advisers indicates the wheels have been set in motion. If a sale goes through, Metro chief executive Eckhard Cordes hopes to raise about 3 billion (£2.37 billion).
However, prospective buyers of Kaufhof would need to reinvent the chain if it is to have a future, according to some retail experts.
Edward Whitefield, chairman of consultancy MHE Retail, said: “If it is going to survive, it needs to adopt a similar formula to that of the UK department stores and become more of a designer brand emporium. Kaufhof has suffered from falling between value and emporium level.”
Possible suitors are said to include France’s Galeries Lafayette and Spain’s El Corte Inglés. However, Whitefield believed El Cortes Inglés would be an unlikely buyer because it is “not comfortable with international expansion”. He thought Italian department store business La Rinascente might be interested, having already bought a tranche of Printemps stores in France.
Whitefield questioned whether many retail suitors would have the financial clout to buy Kaufhof. Media reports indicated that financial buyers such as BC Partners, Blackstone and KKR may be interested.
A Metro spokesman confirmed the appointment of JP Morgan, but insisted there was “no hurry” to sell Kaufhof. He said: “Kaufhof is no longer a strategic asset of Metro, but there is no solid sale process at the moment. We are doing our homework.”
According to Whitefield, Metro’s decision to unload Kaufhof makes sense. He said: “Kaufhof is an uncomfortable bed partner with the rest of Metro’s brands. While many of the Metro brands are capable of expanding internationally, Kaufhof, as it is currently structured, is not.”
Along with Karstadt, Kaufhof is one of the largest department store chains in Germany.