UK’s Selfridges sold to Thai-Austrian consortium

The retail group is best known for its department store on London’s Oxford Street

The billionaire dynasty behind Selfridges and Co has sold the British department store operator to a consortium led by Thai conglomerate Central Group, in one of the biggest UK retail deals for years.

The Weston family said Central Group, which is owned by the Chirathivats, one of Asia’s wealthiest families, and Signa Holding of Austria, have formed a joint venture to buy the retail group. Central and Signa will own the chain in a 50-50 partnership, according to a statement late on Thursday London time.

No price was disclosed but Bloomberg previously reported the Weston family was considering a £4 billion ($5.4bn) approach and had appointed Credit Suisse as an adviser in June.

Selfridges, founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, is best known for the giant department store on London’s Oxford Street. There are also Selfridges stores in Manchester and Birmingham.

The business was bought by the Canadian businessman Galen Weston for almost £600 million in 2003 and has since expanded to include other department store chains, including Arnotts and Brown Thomas in Ireland, Holt Renfrew in Canada and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.

The sale to Central and Signa doesn’t include Holt Renfrew, which will remain with the Weston family.

Central Group is a family-owned company involved in a host of industries, from real estate and retailing to hospitality and restaurants. The Chirathivat family had the 20th largest fortune in Asia, worth $12.9bn, according to a ranking compiled in November 2020 by Bloomberg News.

Signa was founded by retail and real estate entrepreneur Rene Benko, who owns or has stakes in some of the world’s most famous properties, including the Chrysler building in New York.

Thailand's Central Group and Signa of Austria have confirmed plans to buy luxury British department store chain Selfridges. AP

Trophy assets in the UK have attracted interest, even as retail business on major shopping streets suffers. Retail property values have declined in recent years, and the industry was hammered by the pandemic and the shift to online shopping.

Selfridges is among the world’s most famous department stores and has weathered the pandemic well. A considerable part of the asset’s value lies in the significant chunk of London real estate it owns on Oxford Street.

The company operates 18 department stores and a total of 25 stores worldwide across its five brands.

Selfridges Group will become part of the combined Central and Signa portfolio of luxury department stores, which owns Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark, Globus in Switzerland and the KaDeWe Group, which operates in Germany and, from 2024, Austria.

Selfridges’ founder was the subject of a TV series from ITV Studios and PBS that ran for four seasons through 2016. Called Mr Selfridge, the series focused on the story of the company's founder and starred Jeremy Piven.

Updated: December 25th 2021, 4:13 AM