Retail Property - Woolies quashes rumours of Big W portfolio sell-off

Woolworths has moved to scotch rumours that it is looking to dispose of its 21-strong Big W out-of-town portfolio.

A source close to the company said reports of a bulk sale to Asda are wide of the mark, because Woolworths plans to continue trading from the 21 locations, albeit with a slimmed-down format.

Woolworths has appointed property consultant Colliers CRE to carry out a review of the portfolio, which encompasses 21 units of between 70,000 sq ft and 80,000 sq ft (6,505 sq m and 7,430 sq m) across the UK. It is understood that the agent's brief is not to find buyers for the entire portfolio, but rather to identify areas of space that could be sublet or returned to landlords.

In a statement, Woolworths said it wants to bring the Big W stores down to the size of the larger high street stores, which are between 35,000 sq ft and 50,000 sq ft (3,250 sq m and 4,645 sq m). The Big W name will then be abandoned, and the stores rebranded as Woolworths. Colliers is evaluating each store on a case-by-case basis. Some are thought to be easier to subdivide than others.

However, this means that as much as 600,000 sq ft (55,740 sq m) of floorspace could still be put on the market. All of it has valuable open A1 planning consents and, with retailers such as Argos and Next looking to grow out-of-town, competition could be strong. Boots has a requirement for 40 out-of-town stores this year, so a deal with Woolworths could move the health and beauty giant closer to its target.