Beatties and House of Fraser now in Chinese hands

House of Fraser, the 165-year-old stores chain that owns Beatties in Wolverhampton, is now owned by Chinese investors and Mike Ashley, the boss of Sports Direct.

Beatties and House of Fraser is now owned by Chinese department store chain
Beatties and House of Fraser is now owned by Chinese department store chain

Nanjing Cenbest, a Chinese department store chain, has bought 89 per cent of the historic high street stalwart for £480 million,

Mr Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United, bought an 11 per cent stake from Scottish investor Sir Tom Hunter in April, while takeover talks were going on, and he has refused to sell his share of the business to the Chinese.

The Nanjing Cenbest deal is the biggest overseas takeover ever carried out by a Chinese listed company, and the new owners say they are keen to expand House of Fraser internationally.

Yuan Yafei, chairman of Sanpower Group, the largest shareholder of Nanjing Cenbest, said: "We are delighted to have completed the purchase of House of Fraser today. It is an unprecedented transaction and the largest acquisition of a foreign retailer by a Chinese listed company.

"We would like to express our heart-felt appreciation and gratitude to Don McCarthy, retiring executive chairman of House of Fraser; John King, CEO; Mark Gifford, CFO; Nigel Oddy, COO and the rest of the management team for all their hard work. In addition, we would also like to thank our advisors and other institutions for their efforts in helping us complete this deal.

"We are excited to tap the significant opportunities that House of Fraser has in China, where the brand has very strong growth potential.

We are looking forward to bringing international brands to China through House of Fraser, providing Chinese consumers with premium fashion products. We are extremely confident House of Fraser will become a leading global department store and will serve as a bridge for premium brands between China and Europe.”

House of Fraser boss Don McCarthy stepped down as executive chairman as the deal was completed yesterday. He said: “The acquisition by Nanjing Cenbest will move House of Fraser to the next stage of its development as a leading international, multi-channel retail group with a premium fashion offering.

"Since we took the company private in 2006, John King and his team have done an exceptional job of modernising the business model and growing sales to new record levels. I would like to thank our brand and concession partners, all House of Fraser employees and the management team for their hard work and support over the years.”

John King, chief executive of House of Fraser, added: “House of Fraser is starting a new and exciting chapter under new ownership, with shareholders who have plans to support the next exciting phase in the development of the business.

"We have a focused business strategy based on investment in our stores, our leading multichannel offering, growing our house brands and the introduction of exciting premium brands. This strategy has helped us deliver strong growth over the last few years and I am delighted that our current trading is very positive.

"We will be in contact with our brand partners shortly to outline our exciting plans to make House of Fraser a truly global multichannel retailer.”

House of Fraser has said it does not expect to see any day-to-day changes for the 7,300 House of Fraser staff and the 12,000 concession employees at its 60 stores following the takeover.

It means another chapter in the history of a company founded in Glasgow in 1849 as Arthur and Fraser, and for the stores that made up the former Beatties chain when it was bought by House of Fraser in 2005.

Beatties was founded in Victoria Street, Wolverhampton, by local draper and businessman James Beattie. It opened in 1877, when it was called the Victoria Draper Supply Store. By 1895, the firm employed 40 members of staff and was enjoying an annual turnover of £30,000.

Despite a series of major fires in the early years, the company managed to keep rebuilding and expanding, changing the facade to the shape we see today while the company itself adopted limited liability, and then floating on the stock market in 1964.

But a series of mis-steps in the early years of this century, including an unsuccessful move in Birmingham city centre, led to the company being taken over by House of Fraser in 2005.

Over the following years the Beatties name disappeared from nearly all the chain’s former stores, with the Dudley, Birmingham and Northampton branches closed altogether. But the Beatties name still hangs over the entrance on the corner of Darlington Street and Victoria Street.