Thai conglomerate in advanced talks to buy Brown Thomas and Arnotts

Stores are part of Selfridges portfolio of high-end retail outlets in €4.7bn deal

The Weston family have owned Brown Thomas since the 1980s and acquired Arnotts in 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Weston family have owned Brown Thomas since the 1980s and acquired Arnotts in 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Thai conglomerate Central Group is in advanced talks to buy retailers Brown Thomas and Arnotts from Canada’s billionaire Weston family, according to three people familiar with the matter.

A deal for the Irish retailers’ parent, the Selfridges group, one of the industry’s trophy assets which the Weston family had been aiming to sell for about £4 billion (€4.7 billion), may be reached in the next several weeks, two of the people added.

If completed, the sale would end the Westons’ almost two-decade ownership of Selfridges, best known for its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street, which they acquired in 2003 for £598 million.

They have owned Brown Thomas since the 1980s and acquired Arnotts in 2015. The group also has operations in the Netherlands.

Central Group is Thailand’s biggest department store operator and is controlled by the billionaire Chirathivat family.

Acquiring Selfridges would add to Central Group’s stable of top-end European department stores, which includes Germany’s KaDeWe, Italy’s Rinascente, Swiss group Globus and Denmark’s Illum.

Central teamed up with Austrian real estate group Signa Holdings for the KaDeWe and Globus acquisitions.

Selfridges owns many of its properties in Britain and Ireland outright, including the flagship store on Oxford Street. This is expected to add to the appeal of the business at a time when department stores are facing growing challenges from online retailers and changes in consumer tastes.

“This is one of those one-of-a-kind assets that trade maybe once in a generation,” said a person close to the talks.

Unsolicited approach

Credit Suisse was appointed to help the Westons sell Selfridges this year after it received an unsolicited approach.

Central, which bid and lost out to domestic rival Charoen Pokphand Group in last year’s $10.6 billion takeover of Tesco’s Thai and Malaysian operations, Thailand’s biggest-ever corporate acquisition, is being advised by Citi.

The mooted sale comes after a period of succession within the Weston clan. The family patriarch, W Galen Weston, died in April, while Paul Kelly, who had run the Selfridges group since the Westons acquired it, moved to another role in the holding company in 2019. The initial unsolicited approach from an unnamed suitor in June came just weeks after the death of Mr Weston, who was married to Irishwoman Hilary Weston, at 80.

A sale would be the latest chapter in an eventful history for Selfridges, which was opened in 1909 by the American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge. At one time the Oxford Street store housed more than 100 departments, including a shooting range and a library.

Wittington Investments, the family holding group that owns Selfridges, is separate from the UK entity of the almost-identical name that owns Associated British Foods.

Wittington Investments is run by Weston’s son, also named Galen, while his sister Alannah is chair of Selfridges group. They are cousins of ABF chief executive George Weston.

Central Group and the Westons declined to comment. The Times reported earlier on Thursday that the two sides had agreed a deal. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021