Central Retail Corporation’s chief executive Yol Phokasub said today in a statement to the president of the Thai stock exchange that “regarding news stories by The Times and Brand Inside on 2 December 2021 reporting that Central Group is preparing to purchase Selfridges, the company would like to clarify that the company is not currently involved with the transaction reported in the news.”
Central Retail Corporation is the listed retail subsidiary of Central Group. A denial by one subsidiary of the Bangkok-based conglomerate, however, does not preclude the possibility of a deal with the parent company, another unit in the group or an entity associated with it.
Speculation has been growing about a Selfridges sale for months, since reports surfaced in June that the dynasty behind the department store, the Weston family, had received a £4 billion ($5.66 billion) offer for some of its properties and had appointed Credit Suisse to advise on the future of its business.
At the time, interested bidders were believed to be concentrated in the Middle East. Sovereign wealth funds such as the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the Qatar Investment Authority, which owns Harrods, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority were in the frame until the Thai conglomerate was named by a person familiar with the situation.
Central Group, which owns or controls upmarket malls and retail outlets across Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, purchased nine La Rinascente department stores in Italy in 2011 followed by the landmark Illum department store in Denmark in 2015. Tos Chirathivat, the group’s chief executive, is the driving force behind the firm’s international expansion.
The Thai retail giant partnered with Austrian investment firm Signa in 2015 to run Germany’s KaDeWe Group through a majority stake in the historic Berlin department store. Central Group and Signa again teamed up in 2020 to buy Switzerland’s Globus chain of department stores in a deal valued at over 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.03 billion).
Central Group’s experience operating high-end department stores in Asia and Europe makes the prospect of a deal to buy Selfridges synergistic for both parties.
Selfridges, whose London flagship was founded in 1908, opened branches in other UK cities such as Birmingham and Manchester in recent years. Selfridges Group, its parent company, comprises 25 international department store locations under the De Bijenkorf name in the Netherlands, Arnotts and Brown Thomas in Ireland, and Holt Renfrew in Canada.
Since being acquired by the Weston family in 2003, Selfridges has secured a reputation as one of retail’s most innovative players. Though it has been severely tested by the collapse of international tourism brought on by the pandemic, Selfridges would be a prized asset for a player like Central Group seeking a crown jewel for its European portfolio.
Selfridges did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 16:50 BST on 3 December 2021 to reflect further reporting.