Confirmation that Sanpower Group is moving forward with talks to buy an 89% stake in House of Fraser removes doubt that has surrounded the deal.
Confirmation this week that Sanpower Group is moving forward with talks to buy an 89% stake in House of Fraser removes some of the doubt that has surrounded the deal since Mike Ashley muscled in on the transaction by acquiring an 11% share in the department store group.
House of Fraser has courted a number of suitors as well as flirting with the public markets during a lengthy quest to find a new owner. But although the Ashley stake continues to confuse matters, Sanpower is in many ways its most compelling potential partner yet.
As the UK economy improves, its retail sector is once more sparking interest from foreign investors who are drawn to the long-term potential of the market and the UK’s inherent leadership in key retail disciplines.
And specifically, the British department store group has a number of characteristics that will have attracted Sanpower, not least its access to brands and its dual strength as a business steeped in heritage but propelled forward by an advanced multichannel strategy.
Meanwhile, private ownership allows House of Fraser to focus on its medium-term future away from the glare of public scrutiny. This gives it the space to confront ongoing issues with elements of its store estate that remain a brake on the retailer’s transformation. And the injection of capital under new ownership will allow management to accelerate its impressive track record in ecommerce.
However, it’s the international opportunity that adds to the romance of this tie-up. International suitors have come and gone over the past few years, most recently French department store chain Galeries Lafayette, whose 65 global stores would have been an impressive overseas platform. But full-scale access to the Chinese retail market could fast-track House of Fraser to another level.
Chinese retail sales are projected to grow annually at almost 14% over the next five years, driven by the changing lifestyles of young consumers with a desire for Western brands. The increasing sophistication of the Chinese shopper is being shaped by the penetration of ecommerce and the growth of the shopping mall, both of which House of Fraser is well placed to exploit.
However, success in China is anything but assured, as the recent difficulties faced by luxury brands such as Prada and LVMH in the country show. But Chinese ownership will be a significant advantage in navigating those cultural, political and economic challenges, adding to the feeling that this will be a happy marriage.