Sports Direct closes several concessions in Debenhams

Billionaire Mike Ashley pursues a more selective retail strategy for UK sports chain

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire


Sportswear billionaire Mike Ashley has closed almost half of Sports Direct International’s concessions in the stores of struggling UK department store operator Debenhams as he pursues a more selective retail strategy.

Ashley has shut four Sports Direct concessions including two in the Debenhams flagship on London’s Oxford Street, a spokesman for the department store operator confirmed.

The company now has just five outlets remaining in Debenhams stores across the south of England.

‘Pile it high’

Sports Direct’s rapid growth was historically built on a “pile it high, sell it cheap” approach to retailing, but now Ashley, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, wants to appeal to more affluent shoppers. He is focusing investment on new, larger sites in the hope of persuading the likes of Nike and Adidas to supply Sports Direct with their top lines.

The closures came “as a direct result of overlap with locations for future or current flagship stores,” a Sports Direct spokesman said by email. “We remain committed to developing our relationship with Debenhams.”

Ashley’s move scales back a partnership that began abruptly in 2014 when the billionaire acquired a 4.6 per cent stake in Debenhams. Ashley subsequently pressured Debenhams management into filling excess space in some stores with Sports Direct outlets.

Ashley has been increasing the size of his Debenhams position this year and now has a stake of about 21 per cent through a combination of shares and derivatives.

As more shopping moves online, Debenhams has filled excess space in its stores with restaurants and cafes, as well as concessions from other clothing brands. Analysts expect the company’s pre-tax profit to drop by 19 per cent this year due to rising costs and stagnant demand.

- Bloomberg