BHS sold for just £1

Emma Woollacott
BHS sale
BHS sale

Sir Philip Green has sold BHS, reportedly for just £1, 15 years after buying the department store chain for £200 million.

The buyer is investment company Retail Acquisitions, which takes control immediately and is aiming to turn the troubled chain around.

"Having acquired the business nearly 15 years ago in May 2000, one of my clear objectives in identifying a purchaser was ensuring their desire to take the business forward," says Sir Philip.

"The business is handed over in a sound financial position with significant cash balances and banking facilities in place. I am confident that Retail Acquisitions Limited have a platform to grow the business and return it to profitability."

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Founded in 1928, the then British Home Stores had its heyday in the 1970s. Sir Philip bought the company in 2000 for £200 million and added it to his Arcadia empire, which also owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge and Evans.

But BHS has been hit hard in recent years by competition from more fashionable clothing rivals. It has lost hundreds of thousands of customers in the last five years, and posted a loss of £70 million last year; it also has a £100 million pension liability.

The company was rumoured to be up for grabs for years, with South African tycoon Christo Wiese, US hedge fund Apollo and the turnaround firm Hilco all reportedly interested. It was eventually formally put up for sale in January.

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Keith Smith, chairman of Retail Acquisitions, says he's confident that he can revive the chain.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to breathe new life into this iconic British high street brand," he says. "We are convinced that with strategic and focussed support we will return BHS to profitability, and safeguard the workforce."

Others, though, aren't so sure. Analyst Richard Hyman, founder of Verdict Research, says he believes the company is beyond rescue. Instead, he says, this deal probably just marks the next stage in the closure of the business, which employs almost 12,000 staff in 180 stores around the country.

"This is not a turnaround. Its natural constituency no longer exists. Primark does it much cheaper, Bonmarche has a more relevant model and M&S has a stronger brand," he says.

"Can the new owners run a leaner operation than Philip? This is as inconceivable as the idea that BHS can start to win back market share. There will have been a sizeable dowry on the table and this will have been the carrot."

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