Future for Arnotts and Brown Thomas unclear within £4bn deal

Cantillon: Thai-based Central Group may buy Dublin outlets with London parent Selfridges

Arnotts on Henry Street, Dublin. It is  a fine, historic department store, but few can argue that it is a trophy asset

Arnotts on Henry Street, Dublin. It is a fine, historic department store, but few can argue that it is a trophy asset

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Department stores are broad churches of retail worship, selling everything from clothes to kitchen appliances. Now customers at Arnotts will also be able to arrange in-store Covid-19 tests as the first full-service pharmacy in an Irish department store opens in its Henry Street, Dublin, outlet on Tuesday.

The family-owned Mulligan’s chain, which operates 18 other pharmacies in the southeast of the country, is opening its first Dublin outlet in a concession in Arnotts, employing 15 new staff. The 3,000sq ft outlet will use technology such as robots to help fulfil prescriptions and an automated click-and-collect service that operates using QR codes.

In an era where health and wellness concerns are beginning to dominate consumer behaviour, the tie-up looks like a sensible move for Arnotts – a chemist in a department store fits the zeitgeist of the pandemic era.

How do the idiosyncrasies of a Dublin city department store look from Bangkok? Reports last week from the UK suggest Arnotts and its southside sibling Brown Thomas, are on the verge of being sold by the Weston family to the Thai conglomerate Central Group as part of a £4 billion deal for the store’s parent, the Selfridges group. A deal is said to be weeks away.

Central is owned by the wealthy Chirathivat family, who own trophy department store assets in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark. Selfridges sits comfortably in the trophy category.

An argument could be made that Brown Thomas, as the plushest department store in a vibrant European Union economy, is also a trophy asset, albeit a small one. But where might Arnotts fit into Central’s European strategy? It is a fine, historic department store, but few can argue that it is a trophy asset.

If the Central deal goes ahead Brown Thomas and Arnotts will change hands once again, but this time more as side dishes to the main course, which for the Thais is clearly the Selfridges flagship London store. It will be interesting to see what may be on the menu for the Irish stores, especially Arnotts, if and when the deal completes.

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