Iconic retail group Selfridges is sold for more than $5bn

Central group and Signa will jointly own the chain which includes Selfridges, Arnotts and Brown Thomas stores.

The billionaire dynasty behind Selfridges & Co. has sold the British department store operator to a Thai-Austrian joint venture for about 4 billion pounds (£5.4 million) in one of the biggest U.K. retail deals in 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 Thursday London time.

The purchase price was not formally disclosed but is close to 4 billion-pounds ($5.4 billion), according to two people with knowledge of the transaction who asked not to be named because the information is confidential. This makes it one of the top 10 biggest takeovers targeting a U.K. company this year, according to Bloomberg data.

Bloomberg previously reported the Weston family was considering a sale following an approach from an interested party and appointed Credit Suisse as an adviser in June.

Selfridges, founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, is best known for the giant store on London’s Oxford Street that has long been a mecca for fashion enthusiasts. There are also Selfridges stores in Manchester and Birmingham.

Selfridges Group will become part of the combined Central and Signa portfolio of luxury department stores [File: Bloomberg]

The business was bought by the Canadian businessman Galen Weston for almost 600 million pounds 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. Overall the group operates 25 stores worldwide across its five brands.

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

Central Group is a fourth generation 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 $12.9 billion, according to a ranking compiled in November 2020 by Bloomberg News.

Famous Properties

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.

Trophy assets in the U.K. 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 retailer’s value lies in the significant chunk of London real estate it owns on Oxford Street. This includes an undeveloped site at the back of the store where there were once plans for a hotel, leisure and office complex.

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 KaDeWe in Germany.

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 real-life story of the American who started the company and starred Jeremy Piven.