Sanpower buys House of Fraser in £480m deal

House of Fraser store House of Fraser says its staff and stores will not see any day-to-day impact

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UK department store chain House of Fraser has sold a majority stake in its business to Chinese conglomerate Sanpower in a £480m deal.

The acquisition - China's largest foreign retail investment - gives Sanpower an 89% share in the company.

Sanpower said it wanted to expand the "iconic heritage brand" overseas, especially in China.

House of Fraser called the deal an "extremely exciting chapter" in its 165-year history.

'Landmark transaction'

From Mohamed al Fayed to Iceland's business buccaneers, the House of Fraser portfolio has secured its owners many of Britain's most prestigious retail locations.

And at a time of unprecedented change for the industry, that is testament to the vision of the Fraser family, and to the endurance of the department store format.

Starting in 1849 in Glasgow, the dynasty's third Hugh Fraser became general manager and then chairman in his twenties, going on to build a retail giant through more than 70 business acquisitions over the following four decades.

The Frasers' store on Glasgow's Buchanan Street remains a cornerstone of both the business and the city's '"style mile". While it has kept Jenners' name in Edinburgh, other names have been replaced - Arnott's, Binn's, Army & Navy - and there's now a focus on the House of Fraser brand for a consistent link to online sales.

At Glasgow University, the House of Fraser archive is a treasure trove of consumer trends going back into the 19th century.

Despite having an old-fashioned retail format, its execution of that shift to online sales may be one of the attractions to its new owners, as well as the possibility of taking the House of Fraser brand onto the Chinese high street.

"This acquisition is a landmark transaction for a Chinese listed company," said Yuan Yafei, chairman of Sanpower Group.

"House of Fraser is a strong and iconic heritage brand in the UK and abroad, with exceptional fashion credentials.

"We have always been looking to invest in strong brands like House of Fraser, and take them to the next level of growth."

House of Fraser said it did not expect to see any day-to-day changes for the 7,300 staff and 12,000 concession employees working at its 60 shops.

The department store chain's executive chairman, Don McCarthy, who will step down once the deal is complete, said the deal would give House of Fraser a "strong platform" to develop oversees.

'Long future'

"Our announcement...opens an extremely exciting chapter in the story of House of Fraser," he added.

"I am extremely confident that the Group's business model...will accelerate and develop long into the future."

The acquisition, made via Sanpower's Nanjing Cenbest subsidiary, comes just a week after Sports Direct bought an 11% stake in House of Fraser.

It was seen by many as an attempt by Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley to derail the Chinese deal.

But House of Fraser said on Saturday that should the transfer of those shares go through, the Newcastle United owner would not have the right to a position on the company's board.

The Sanpower deal also brings to an end House of Fraser's plans to list on the London Stock Exchange.

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