Thai and Austrian groups buy Selfridges

Selfridges, the UK-based department store chain controlled by Canada’s billionaire Weston family, has been acquired in a £4bn deal by Thai conglomerate Central Group and Signa, an Austrian real estate group.

The Thai and Austrian groups said on Thursday they had reached a deal to buy the retailer, established by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1908, after months of negotiations with the Westons.

Central Group, controlled by the Chirathivat family, is Thailand’s biggest department store operator. Selfridges will be the first UK addition to its suite of luxury European stores, which include La Rinascente in Italy, KaDeWe in Germany, Globus in Switzerland, and Denmark’s Illum.

Central joined forces last year with Signa in a 50:50 joint venture to buy Globus, and the two groups also jointly own KaDeWe.

Signa is a real estate, retail and media group founded in 1999 as Immofina by Rene Benko. Its holdings — along with its European retail properties — include the Hotel Bauer in Venice and half of New York’s Art Deco Chrysler Building, which it bought in 2019 for about $150m together with property firm RFR Holding. Its real estate assets across the world are valued at more than €24bn.

Ahead of today’s deal, people close to the sale talks said that one of the main attractions of Selfridges’ business was that the brand owned most of its stores in the UK and Ireland outright.

The agreement will end the Canadian branch of the Weston family’s near 20-year ownership of Selfridges. They acquired the business, best known for its London store on Oxford Street, in 2003 for £598m after a fierce bidding war against property investor Robert Tchenguiz.

After the latest purchase, Central Group and Signa’s portfolio of retailers will have combined annual revenues of €5bn, based on pre-pandemic values, a figure expected to reach €7bn by 2024, according to the Thai and Austrian groups.

“As family businesses, Central and Signa will focus on delivering exceptional and inclusive store and digital experiences for both local residents and overseas visitors alike . . . as we seek to create a world-leading luxury, retail company,” said Tos Chirathivat, executive chair and chief executive of Central Group.

The transaction comes as high street retailers face multiple challenges with consumers having embraced online shopping, a trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic. In the UK, well-known retailer Debenhams was forced to file for bankruptcy, while employee-owned John Lewis has had to close several stores.

Alannah Weston, chair of Selfridges and daughter of the late Galen Weston, who acquired the UK department store in 2003, said the deal was a testament to her “father’s vision for an iconic group of beautiful, truly experiential, department stores”.

“I am proud to pass the baton to the new owners who are family businesses that take a long-term view,” she added.