London retail landmark Liberty explores £300m sale | Business News
Liberty, the famous London department store, is poised to change hands for the first time in nearly a decade after its largest shareholders hired bankers to explore a potential sale.
Sky News has learnt that BlueGem Capital Partners, a private equity firm, has asked UBS to sound out prospective bidders for business.
BlueGem is said to have slapped a price tag of more than £300m on the West End retail destination and its sister companies, which include the fabrics division that has become synonymous with the Liberty brand.
One source said it could sell for as much as £350m.
Liberty, which was sold to BlueGem for just over £40m in 2010, is being marketed from a position of strength in a largely bleak retail market.
The company’s instantly recognisable Tudor store on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street in central London means it has long-ranked in the same category of internationally known shopping landmarks in the capital such as Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Selfridges.
The shop, which Liberty occupies on a leasehold basis, sells designer labels including Givenchy, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham.
Accounts filed at Companies House for Liberty Zeta, the ultimate holding company for the retailer’s activities, showed earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, and prior to one-off costs, of just over £21m in the 53-week period to 3 February 2018.
That represented an increase on the previous year’s figure of £19.98m.
The company said it was pursuing profitable growth in its retail and fabrics businesses, with the Liberty London luxury goods brand being developed into a global distribution operation.
It also owns Christys, the hat-maker famous for supplying Sir Winston Churchill and The Queen.
Founded in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty with a £2000 loan from his future father-in-law, Mr Liberty opened its first store on a site close to its current berth.
It initially became known for importing ornaments, art and fabrics from across the British Empire to London.
Seven years after Mr Liberty’s death in 1917, the current mock-Tudor building was constructed.
It was unclear on Tuesday whether BlueGem would sell its stake in isolation, or whether the process would involve the remaining shares in Liberty
In 2014, BlueGem reduced its stake in Liberty by offloading part of its holding to what it described as “prominent and well-established international families from Europe and the Middle East”.
In a statement at the time, the company said: “These investors are long-term oriented and provide the company with significant stability of capital and a relevant network in the industry.
“BlueGem has retained a sizeable investment in the business and will continue to manage and support the company and the management team in the next stage of development.”
Retail industry sources said that BlueGem now owned roughly 40% of Liberty’s shares, although that figure has never been publicly confirmed.
BlueGem, which also owns stakes in Jack Wills and Mamas & Papas, declined to comment on the size of its current Liberty shareholding or the talks with prospective bidders.
Last year, Liberty appointed Adil Mehboob-Khan, the former boss of hair products manufacturer Wella and luxury eyewear group Luxottica, as its chief executive.
News of BlueGem’s decision to explore a sale comes on the same day that Debenhams, Britain’s biggest department store chain by number of outlets, secured a short-term £40m financing lifeline from its lenders.