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New Chinese owner for Beatties and House of Fraser

By Simon Penfold | Wolverhampton | Business | Published:

House of Fraser, owner of Wolverhampton’s landmark Beatties department store, is set to be sold by its Chinese owners in the latest sign of upheaval on Britain’s beleaguered high street.

Sanpower-owned group Nanjing Xinjiekou Department Store is in talks to sell a majority 51 per cent stake in House of Fraser to Chinese tourism group Wuji Wenhua.

It comes after recent trading troubles at House of Fraser and amid a dismal start to 2018 for UK retail, with Toys R Us and Maplin both collapsing into administration in February.

A House of Fraser spokesman said it was "business as usual" at the chain in the UK, adding that the move was "just a change of ownership".

Sanpower bought House of Fraser in 2014, but the deal has since proved ill-fated for the Chinese giant, with UK trading under pressure and little success in its plans to launch department stores worldwide.

House of Fraser reported a 2.9 per cent fall in sales in the crucial six weeks to December 23, while online sales fell 7.5 per cent after hiccups with the launch of a new web platform.

The chain was forced to ask for rent cuts on some of its stores in early January, while also overhauling its supplier base as part of moves to cut costs.

House of Fraser has 56 department stores in the UK. Along with the Wolverhampton store it has a Beatties in Solihull, Rackhams in Shrewsbury and branches in Birmingham and Telford.

At the time of the Christmas trading update, Sanpower chairman Yuan Yafei said the Chinese group was "fully committed to its long-term investment in the UK retail market".

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He added Sanpower would continue to provide "all the necessary support to ensure House of Fraser's success as the leading UK premium department store chain".

The group had planned to expand the chain internationally, with 50 House of Frasers planned across China under the name Oriental Fraser.

But it has only opened one House of Fraser in China - a store in Nanjing in late 2016.

Other minority shareholders in House of Fraser include Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley.

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The Wolverhampton shop was opened in 1887 by James Beattie and became the cornerstone of a 12-strong department store empire. At its height in the 1980s and 1990s, the Wolverhampton store alone employed more than 800 people.

But an ill-fated move into Birmingham left it open to a £69.4m takeover by House of Fraser in 2005.

House of Fraser was bought by Sanpower in 2014.

Simon Penfold

By Simon Penfold
Business Editor - @SPenfold_star

Business Editor based at the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton, looking for stories big & small.

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