Thai group takes control of Selfridges as partner wobbles

Thailand’s Central Group has taken over ownership of historic British department store Selfridges after its Austrian partner Signa hit financial difficulties.

Central said Tuesday it has converted a loan into equity to become the majority shareholder in the Selfridges Group, which also includes De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands and Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland.

The move comes days after crisis-hit Signa said it faced restructuring following liquidity problems.

Central Group, founded by the Chinese-Thai Chirathivat business clan in 1927, has grown to become a multinational conglomerate with a sprawling retail and property portfolio.

It bought Italy’s luxury department store Rinascente in 2011 and the Selfridges Group for £4 billion in partnership with Signa in 2021.

“Central Group will become the majority shareholder and gain control of the joint-venture company for the operating companies within the Selfridges Group,” Central said in its statement.

“The move solidifies Central Group as an owner-operator of the largest European luxury department store group offering customers the best curation of brands, merchandise, and extraordinary experiences.”

Signa — which owns the Chrysler building in New York — will present restructuring plans by the end of the month, it said on Friday.

At the end of 2021, the wealthy Canadian Weston family announced that it was selling Selfridges to Signa and Central Group.

Selfridges, founded in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century by American Harry Gordon Selfridge, revolutionised retail by showcasing products in window displays, and turning department stores into attractive venues, complete with restaurants, art and entertainment.

Like many store-based retailers, Selfridges has suffered as consumers are drawn to online shopping.

Headquartered in Innsbruck, Austria, Signa is mainly active in real estate, but has also diversified into retail and media. (AFP)